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Places to visit during Ram Navami celebration in India

Ram Navmi is one of the most auspicious Hindu festivals which celebrates as the birth of Lord Shri Rama. Lord Shri Ram who is believed as seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu.

How it is celebrate :

 The festival is celebrated with great vigor and enthusiasm. Generally devotees celebrate Ram Navmi by keeping a fast on this day, visit a Shri Ram temple, and participate in a Bhajan (a devotional song) on the day.

 Although they are celebrated with great fanfare everywhere, there are some places where it is celebrated and considered as special event. And here is the list of those cities and places, have a look over them:

1] Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh


Ayodhya 
image credit: wikipedia

Ayodhya is on the first place where the festival is celebrates in large scale. Situated on the bank of river Sariyu The city is one of the most holiest and popular place. It is believed that it is the birth place of Lord Rama. A beautuful Chariot procession is must see event here during Ram Navmi.

2] Bhadrachalam in Telangana

Bhadrachalam 
image credit: Wikimedia

It is also famous for Ram Navmi celebration. The Sree Seetha Ramachandra Swamy shrine temple which was constructed in the 17th century is most famous temple here which is dedicated to Lord Rama.

3] Sitamarhi, Bihar


Sitamarhi is the third one of the most sacred place where you could witness the festival celebration. Also this place is so important because of it is considered as a birthplace of goddess Sita.  Sitamarhi is situated in Bihar state.

4] Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu

Rameswaram 
image credit: wikimedia

It is famous for it's temple dedicated to Lord Shiva which is believed to have been established and worshiped by Lord Ram himself. It is also that place from where Lord Shri Ram began his journey to Sri Lanka, to rescue Goddess Sita after being abducted by Ravan.

So apart from this, which place do you like most to celebrate Ram Navami festival nears you ?
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5 Most Famous Jyotirlinga in Maharashtra


Aundha Nagnath

          (image courtesy:ghumakkar.com)

Among the twelve Jyotirlinga of India it is situated in Hingoli district in the Maharashtra state. It is also belived and said that the temple of Lord shiva have been built by Yudhishthira, eldest of the  Pandavas during thier 14 years of exile.  The temple is built in Hemandpanthi style of architecture. 


How to reach:-  


Nearest railway station:- Chondi, 21 km away.


Nearest Airport:- Nanded 41 KM away. 



By Road :- Well connected to other cities of the state.



Bhimashankar


Located in small villiage called 'Bhojgiri' which is approx. 50 km northwest of Khed, near Pune district in Maharashtra state is one of the 12 Jyotirlinga in India. Built in the Hemadpanthi style in the mid 18th century The temple is always crowded with devotees, especially during the Mahashivratri festival.

How to reach:


Nearest Railway station:- Pune railway station is 111 Kms away. 


Nearest Airport :- Pune Airport 127kms.



By Road:- Well connected to Mumbai and Junnar through other cities of the state.


Parli Vaijnath


  (image courtesy:wikipedia.org)

Situated on a hill that faces towards the east in Parali in Beed district of Maharashtra state. Though the exact date of construction is not known but it believed that the temple is belongs to 12th or 13th century.  On  Gudi Padawa, Vijaya Dashami, Tripuri Pournima and Mahashivaratri big celebrations take place.


How to reach: 


Nearest railway station:- Parali 2 km away from the temple. 


Nearest Airport :- Aurangabad 218 km away.


By Road:- Parli is well connected toLatur,Parbhani,Nanded, Aurangabad,Hyderabad and Pune.

 

Trimbakeshwar:- 

     (image courtesy:wikipedia.org)

Trimbakeshwar one of the 12 Jyotirlinga located 28 km from the Nashik city and near Brahmagiri mountain where the holy river Godavari originates. The extraordinary feature of the Jyotirlinga located here is its three faces embodying Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu and Lord Rudra.  It is said that Nanasaheb Peshwa had built this temple.


How to reach:-  


Nearest railway station:- Nasik road railwaystation 24 km away.


Nearest Airport:- Mumbai 200 km away .



By Road:- Well connected with Mumbai, Nashik city, and Aurangabad.



Grishneshwar:-

        (image courtesy:ddasedEn)

Known as the 12th Jyotirlinga shrines situated in a Verul a small village which is 20 km away from Daulatabad and 30 km away from Aurangabad city.
Ahilyabai Holkar constructed current existing temple. The temple is beautifully structured and has Garbhagriha, beautiful statutes carved pillars


How to reach:- 


Nearest Airport:- Aurangabad airport is 29 km  away.
 

Nearest Railway station:- Aurangabad railway station is 29 km  away.


By Road:- Well connected by road to Aurangabad, Mumbai, Pune and Jalna.


All the roads to reach these places are comfortable to travel and hiring a chauffeur driven car rental is ideal if you prefer to make your way around these places without the hassle. 
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Kailas Manas Sarovar Yatra series - 9


Was it a dream?!


Even now, at the time of writing this, I recall that experience. What was it that I had gone through? How do I describe it to my folks at home? Was it just about the hardships of an adventurous trekking that I am going to narrate? Or about the beautiful landscape? Or about being able to reach the abode of gods and goddesses? Or about securing a place in the list of those luckiest people who could unload all their sins? Any attempt to give a description of that experience would fail. The pain of giving birth to a baby could not be explained in words, just like the joy of touching the feet new born baby. Whatever may be the name of that place…..I call it the womb….womb of the infinite-the unbound-the formless-the nameless-the omnipresent-the un-manifested in the manifested universe. 
 
We had very little time to spend on the top of Drolma La. Neema hurried us to move on. It might turn out to be fatal for vulnerable people. I rushed to my camera, took a few snaps. I was unable to hold the camera, hands were shaking. Entire valley was covered with fog. Colorful prayer flags had provided wonderful contrast against the background of snow covered valley. We had to move from there, we started descending on the opposite side.
While descending, we saw the Gauri Kund. It is a small pool of water that is supposed to be the place where goddess Parvati (Gauri) is said to have done penance for Lord Shiva. It is situated on a bit lower altitude than the Drolma La. We crossed a frozen river stream after that. After about half an hour we descended and reached the plains of a river stream. We stopped at a tiny restaurant like thing to have our packed lunch consisting biscuits, fruits and bread. We had to complete, again about 22 km trek to reach our camp at Zutulpuk. However, it was on a plain path we had to walk by the side of an unnamed river stream.
Gauri Kund (image credit: Prajna LS)

Ponies had arrived there already with their masters for those who had booked. A fellow traveler, he was the youngest of all in our team, was suffering from severe sickness. He was brought to the camp in an ambulance later. It was a terrific walk. I was lagging behind. I had no energy left to walk. Luckily, looking at my condition, Neema Sherpa and also Veerbahadur Sherpa took great care of me till I could reach the camp. The cute looking Veerbahadur used to cheer me up in between, he made me to drink glucose water, asked me to sit and take rest and made me to move again…like a kind friend.
I recall it was like a walk in the oblivion, as if it were a sleep walk. I was feeling very drowsy. It is a symptom of altitude sickness. In that delusive state of mind I had tried to recall the faces of our elder team mates one by one. Then, realized they were on ponies. Huh. But, not all were. Narayan uncle and the father of Doctor Shailaja were also coming by foot. No idea how they were, where they were…Veer Bahadur cheered, “We have almost reached, don’t worry”. He was just consoling my mind, I know.
It was raining by the time we reached. Must be around 7.30 pm we had reached. My folks at the camp were worried for me. They didn’t know for whom the ambulance was sent. Veerbahadur held my hand in a majestic way and dropped me at the door of our allotted room where my folks had been resting!! I just threw out my shoes, rain coat and jacket and lied on my bed, I was drenched in sweat.
Third day!
Next day morning we walked for about 2-3 hours. It was damn easy compared to the second day! We were feeling very light and were excited. It was drizzling and after sometime we could see tiny-tiny snow flakes settling on our rain coats. The entire valley looked fabulous. I told my aunt that we are blessed by Bhagwan through snowfall!
There is a small mound to mark the completion of Kailas Parikrama. We reached there and it was the end of our great venture. We could see our vehicles at that point. Drove back to Darchen, and after lunch the group proceeded towards Saga. From saga we came to Nyalam and from Nyalam we crossed the Friendship Bridge (at Kodari) again to reach Kathmandu.
When I reflect upon this particular experience of mine, all seems like a dream. A dream sent by the ‘un-manifested spirit’ to illustrate the hardships of realising the ‘sublime’. 
image credit: Prajna LS
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Kailash Manas Sarovar Yatra Series - 8

Kailas Parikrama –Drolma La Pass!

We had walked about 12 km in the rugged terrain of Kailas circuit to reach Dirapuk from Darchen. Mount Kailas is seen from a very close distance here. We were overwhelmed, excited and content. Dirpuk is located at 4, 600 meters above the sea level. Altitude sickness gets severe from here. We rested in tin sheds after initial excitement of passing the first stage of Kailas Kora.
Accommodation at Dirapuk, or at Zultulpuk is getting better year after year, I think. As we heard the experiences of those who had gone earlier, there used to be tents. Now, the Chinese Government has built tin sheds providing space for 4 members each in rooms. 8/10 rooms have been constructed. We didn’t see any latrine there. We had to use open space for the routine.
My aunt, uncle and I were little anxious, since my brother and his wife had not arrived. They arrived an hour later and we were quite relieved! Soon the shades of evening turned black and we were desperately waiting for the soup to be served. It was not hunger, I guess, we needed something hot, very hot. We sipped soups as if we had been starved for months together.
Climate at Dirapuk is quite uncertain. It can rain anytime, and sometimes even snowfall occurs. One can’t be sure of second day parikrama. Sherpas judge the climate condition and advice accordingly whether to proceed or to return. Despite Diamox intake we were feeling nausea, headache, and body temperature. That night, we could not eat much. I had gulped a tablet for fever, and at about midnight I was drenched in sweat. It was pouring outside! Ohh…good sign. I was wishing for the announcement of our return due to bad weather. Delusions of dark hours!!
Image credit:Prajna LS
Image credit:Prajna LS














Second Day was broken amidst fog and slight drizzles. Sherpas were confident of moving further and asked us to get ready. Those who feel very sick can return from Dirapuk, they advised. “Himmat Rakhkho…Himmat se kaam chalega” said Sangya Sherpa with a naughty smile. The Sherpas had already kept a barrel of warm water for washing purpose in front of our rooms. After having a brisk breakfast, we marched towards Zutulpuk which needed about 32 km trek.
This day was the toughest day of all during our Yatra. We were supposed to pass through the Drolma La Pass (18,600 ft) and the famous Gauri Kund. The trek included ascending the slope of Drolma La and then, descending the slope. Once after descending the slope, we had to take up a long trek along a river stream up to Zutulpuk. Exact calculation of the time and distance up to Drolma la (8km) and from there up to Zutulpuk (24 km may be) is not possible. We reached Drolma La pass (8 km up) in three stages. It is a steep up.
The surrounding had received good snowfall the previous night. Not a sunny day. Thick fog had covered the hills making it more difficult for a walk. We were on an unfathomable path, metaphorically! I just laid my burden on my destiny that had led me so far and was confident that I would be taken good care of by my guru Sri Datta.
Image credit:Prajna LS
Sherpas were holding two oxygen cylinders for emergency. But, they had advised us to use that only if it was necessary. They had warned that the oxygen supplement would have side effects, it may block lungs even more and if it happens one may have to go back. It was a testing period of our patience, will power, courage and luck.
We started moving slowly, one after another. It was a narrow strip on a snowy hill partially covered with snow. For every two steps I had to stop, take rest on my walking stick and then had move on. We had to pass through three steep acclivities of which the last ascent was breathtaking experience. Through the misty depth we passed, it was like experiencing the fate of an embryo inside the womb. We could see the last acclivity, on which some hikers were visible, though not so clearly.
We were not allowed to stop anywhere. “Keep walking” Neema Sherpa who was carrying my knapsack along with the camera bag used to poke. Senior team mates on the pony used to greet us occasionally. We walked to strange tunes hummed by the Chinese porters. We were crawling inside the depth of silence.
I was breathing heavily making sounds. I had to consume water in between to prevent dehydration. Dry fruits will help reducing energy loss; keep them in the pockets of your jacket. I was unable to hold even the flask. Neema Sherpa used to hold that and he used to open even the lid of the flask for me! He would give my camera whenever he felt it would be alright to stop for a minute for taking photos. I thank him for being so kind.
One of our senior mates, Manju aunty, had completed the first day Parikrama by walk. But, on the second day, she felt that she can’t climb the ascending slope. Luckily she caught hold of a pony man who was returning from the top after dropping a pilgrim. One will get Ponies till the top only. After reaching the top (Drolma La) one will have to descend a steep slope till some distance. Ponies can’t descend on that slope. However, for those who have booked ponies in advance for all the three days would get back to the pony ride after reaching the ground.
We were ascending the third slope. Someone was sick on the way, was being assisted with oxygen. Neema didn’t allow me to stand there. He hurried me to move on. It was a steep rocky slope. I could feel my legs shaking. The whole area was covered with thick fog. I had forgotten the world that I had left behind! Face of my darling daughter flashed through my mind, suddenly. Move or die! I had forgotten my state of being itself. Inexplicable state of mind that was…….. in tune with the symphony of unbound-ruthless-wild nature. Each step seemed heavy…a state of oblivion.
It was when Neema Sherpa said that we had reached the top I was not in state to rejoice really! Yes, we had reached the top of Drolma La Pass. Huh!



[To be continued….]  

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Kailash-Manas Sarovar Yatra Series - 7

Kailas Parikrama is nothing but a trekking process around the Kailas Circuit. Parikrama means circumambulation. Some go for 3 day trekking, some for 9 days, some for 13 and some choose one day depending upon their health. The total distance to be covered in a three day parikrama is approximately 52 km. This task is an important part of Kailas-Manas Sarovar Yatra, though not compulsory. People who are physical fit and mentally confident may take up the task. It is the hardest task of the yatra, but, the most fulfilling one!
Mount Kailas is revered with great devotion by Hindu, Jain and Buddhist followers. In the Jain tradition, Kailas is considered to be the mount (Ashtapada Parvat) on which the first Teerthankar Rishabhdev attained his salvation. According to Bon Buddhist tradition, the mount is a highly energetic place representing transcendental energy. This place is associated with Guru Rinpoche, the Padmasambhava.
Hindus consider the mount as to be the abode of Lord Shiva and his consort Parvathi. Kailas Parvat is said to be the source for many rivers. Indus, Satlej, Brahmaputra, and Ghagra Rivers originate somewhere near the Kailas circuit. By circumambulating the mount, it is believed, that one would attain supreme energy and would be purified.
One can take up the task only after reaching Lake Manas. The trekking starts from a place called Darchen, the base point actually. Darchen is located at about 8 km from Lake Manas, and can be approached by motored vehicles.
image credit: prajna LS

The night before the parikrama, our Sherpa team gave us some tips for the mountain walk. They showed us how to handle fatigue and breathlessness during the parikrama. Not only that, they had also narrated stories of devotees who had died half way! That was very scary and made us to think twice before deciding.
A small backpack containing dry fruits, medicine, a flask, a torch, a pain balm tube and tissue roles were kept ready. Even to carry such a lightweight backpack we had hired porters. Chinese porters will come at the gateway (Yamadwar, the starting point) and we had hired them for 700 yens. The sherpas will collect the money and I guess full amount will not be paid to the porters! Pilgrims who feel uncomfortable to walk can hire ponies. Book your pony for all three days; you may not get a pony in the middle of your parikrama.
Next day morning, after a small breakfast, we had moved towards Yamadwar, the starting point of our Parikrama. Dressed in three layered cloths, we had reached Yamadwar in a bus. Our porters and Pony caretakers had already gathered at Yamadwar. For our group (I, aunt and uncle, brother and his wife) the Sherpas themselves got ready to carry the backpack.

Yamadwar!

I don’t know why it is named like that. But, a scary name it was. Yama, as you all know is the governor of death according to Hindus. This is the gateway to his home! There is a small shrine inside which heads of slain goats and Yaks are hung. There is a small bell inside and by tradition every pilgrim would perform circumambulation of the shrine three times after ringing the bell for a safe return. We were already nervous looking at the shrine. We proceeded further after performing the circumambulation.
 
image credit:Prajna LS
Our target was to reach Dirapuk. We were instructed to walk very slowly leaning on to the walking stick whenever it was necessary. It is not a competion of any sort to reach first. It won’t be difficult to walk on a plain, but, it would be highly difficult for ups. Take rest for a while (not more than a minute) and move forward if you feel breathlessness. We saw a Buddhist devotee prostrating for every other step. He had covered his hands with shoes.
The route on the first day Parikrama was not so complicated. We walked along the Yak River. Our path pierced through the rugged terrain comprising steep rocky hills. These same hills would be covered with snow during winter, but, we had gone there in August. So, the terrain was uncovered, rocky and plain, resonating deep silence.
We could reach the target by afternoon. Dirapuk houses a Buddhist Gompa. But, a surprise was waiting for us when we reached there. It was the last up. We had taken about half an hour to climb up, then, we turned to our right and were dumbstruck at the sight of Mount Kailas from such a close distance. It was such a solemn and serene sight, that I would always cherish in my memory. As we sat on the ground below there, we felt as if we were sitting at the feet of Lord Shiva himself!

Wait for the next episode to read about the second and third day parikrama!
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Kailash-Manas Sarovar Yatra Series - 6


Lake Manas Sarovar  

Lake Manas Sarovar is widely known as Mapam Yumco in the Tibetan region. It is a precious site of visit for Hindu, Jain and Buddhist pilgrims. It is a freshwater lake situated on an elevation of about 15,000 ft above the sea level. The lake signifies purity of mind and heart. Devotees believe that a ritual bath in the lake would cleanse off all the sins committed so far.
The Lake is located near the Mount Kailas and the Meru Mountain ranges. This beautiful lake looks like a heavenly abode in a clear daylight. In fact, it is said that the ‘Devatas’ (gods) come here every morning to take bath in the lake. Keeping the Mount Kailash in the centre, two lakes are situated in that place, actually. One is the well known Lake Manas sarovar and the other one is Lake Rakshas Sarovar. Lake Rakshas is a saline water lake.
Lake in the backdrop of mount kailas (image courtesy:prajna LS)

For Buddhists, Bon Buddhists in particular, Manas sarovar basin is a holy site of meditation. Guru Rinpoche is said to have stayed in this place and we can see Buddhist Gompas around the lake. We visited the Chiu Gompa situated on top a steep hill.
We had arrived there at about 1.30 pm. It was a clear sky. We were bewildered by the serene lake and its beauty. White clouds had gathered over the lake like a white embroidered lace. Sun beams crisscrossed over the crystal clear water that reflected the color of the sky, which was blue at that time.
The place is well maintained by the Chinese authorities. A station has been built for the tourists accommodating a huge hall. There is enough space for a helipad around the building, in the forthcoming days one may get helicopter service upto Manas sarovar. The bus that we travelled dropped us there and it will come again to pick us on the last day of our Parikraman. Pilgrims do get special bus service meant for Manasarovar Lake (for pick and drop to nearby places).
Luckily, we got to have a dip in the lake. After that, we reached our base camp near another side of the lake. That night it rained like anything. We were speculating that the Kailas Parikraman would be cancelled if it continues to rain. We woke up to a clear, but a misty morning.
That day, in the afternoon, we were supposed to reach the base destination for the 3 day Kailas Circumambulation. Till then, we were allowed to take rest. Some devotees were performing rituals (Puja and havan), though it was not compulsory. In fact, the place does not have any Hindu temples, except some Gompas. Some were taking rest at the dormitory cells. We decided to explore the place. We visited the Chiu Gompa which was nearby.
The place where we had stayed is a small campus consisting rows of dormitory cells specially meant for the pilgrims. These dormitories will be booked in advance by the travel agencies. Rooms are equipped with solar electricity providing beds for 4-5 members. You can charge your camera cells and mobile phones. This is common during all three days of Kailas Parikrama. Earlier there used to be tents, now, tents have been replaced by tin sheds providing bare minimum amenities. Hot water will be provided for drinking and basic utility purpose. Common latrines were highly dirty. However, one must be prepared for extreme conditions.
Base Camp (Image Courtesy:Prajna LS)

In the afternoon, we left for Darchen located at about 8 km from the camp. The 3 day trekking will start and will end up in Darchen. On the first day, we walked from Darchen to Dirapuk (12km), on the second day, from Dirapuk to Zutulpuk (32km) and on the third day, we reached Darchen (8km) from Zutulpuk. Darchen is good for buying walking sticks, bead and Tibetan jewellery. As we walked back to our dormitory from the market place, a face of Mount Kailas was visible from a far distance. We were amazed at the sight of Kailas like that all of a sudden! Within a few minutes, the peak was covered behind a veil of clouds.
We stayed that night in Darchen. Our Parikraman began the next day morning. It is an experience for lifetime. Wait for the next episode!!

[To be continued]
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Kailash-Manas Sarovar Yatra Series - 5

Nyalam to Manas Sarovar

Nyalam is situated at about 35 km from the Kodari border at 12, 300 ft altitude. It is located in the Shigatse Prefecture of Tibet. It has expanded from being a village to a small town by housing shopping streets and hotels. From here onwards, we start experiencing the climatic variations of a typical Tibetan Plateau. We can feel a warm morning changing into a windy noon, accompanied by sudden downpour. Evenings will be very cold and it gets dark very late. Nyalam is the place where we get acclimatized with the crazy weather conditions of Tibet. It is better to be wrapped up with warm cloths.
Nyalam (image credit:Prajna LS

The road from Kodari border to Nyalam was mesmerizing. The journey begins at the lower point of a Ghat section and as we move on, the landscape changes. Green hill slopes, river streams, steep valleys, countless waterfalls…nature unwinds in varied forms. As we approached Nyalam, we began noticing the Rocky Mountains and dry pastures.
We were accommodated in a dormitory. Accommodation for all Yatris will be the same upto Manas Sarovar. These towns will be closed for winter. Don’t expect any luxury at these dormitories. There will be common latrines with very poor conditions. It is better to carry tissue roles. At some points, especially during the Kailash Parikrama, we used the open ground for that purpose. But, be careful about the dogs there. Never go alone.
Food will be prepared by the Sherpa team, a soup will be provided every evening. Good enough for the survival. The leader of our Sherpa team was Sangey. The team carries utensils, cylinders, groceries and vegetables in a separate vehicle. After reaching every destination, they would be busy with unloading, cooking, washing, serving, and again loading everything into the luggage van. They were our chefs, guides and doctors! They are well experienced trekkers; they know how to survive in extreme weather conditions. If at all could get through the risky Parikrama of the Mount Kailash it was due to the support of these Sherpas. Very friendly and affectionate companions.
The team used to provide the Diamox tablet after dinner. Diamox tablets are essential to overcome the ‘altitude sicknesses. We had started the diamox course in Kadori itself. As we move on to higher altitudes, we start feeling nausea, headache, and fever. Symptoms may vary from person to person. Increased heartbeat, pulse rate, palpitation, sweat, and loss appetite may cause troubles. We get tired very easily. It becomes very hard even to walk. Once after acclimatizing with the climate, these symptoms may disappear. Nevertheless, it is better to take diamox tablets to avoid the risk.
You can buy accessories of trekking in Nyalam. Walking sticks, down jackets, shoes, water cans could be bought here. Carry enough Chinese Yauns, you may need the currency to pay for porters and ponies during Kailash Parikrama.
Next day morning, we left Nyalam for Dongba. It takes about 8 hours to reach Dongba from Nyalam. On the way to Dongba, we passed through the Brahmaputra River valley. We had finished the packed lunch on the banks of the Brahmaputra River. We reached Dongba at about 5 in the evening. Most of our teammates were tired and despite the intake of Diamox, we were suffering from Altitude sickness. Headache, nausea and loss of appetite were common symptoms. We were instructed strictly to cover our body with thermals and down jackets. We stayed that night at Dongba.
The most awaited day had arrived. We left Dongba, next morning. It is about 3 to 4 hours journey from Dongba to Lake Manas. Our bus moved along the serpentine path, passing through bare hillocks covered under white clouds. Our initial excitement to reach the ultimate destination had been hushed by the tedious travel experience. Most of our senior mates looked tired and sick. It was indeed a hard time for us to manage our mental and physical health under the erratic climate condition of Tibet.
Manas sarovar lake (image credit:Prajna LS)

But, all that misery seemed temporary when we had a glimpse of Lake Manas from our moving bus. It was a clear noon, fortunately. All our dismal faces brightened up. Wow, what a breathtaking moment!! In a clear day light, the lake surrounded by snowy mountain peaks like a glittering blue veil appeared heavenly. It was an ethereal sight.

[To be continued…]  
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Kailash-Manas Sarovar Yatra Series-4

The Friendship Bridge

Image Courtesy:Prajna LS
 Next day morning, we proceeded towards Kodari border along with a team of Sherpa men in a private travel bus. These Sherpa team accompanies us throughout our journey.  This team takes care of routine breakfast, lunch and dinner.  It is a team consisting of trekking experts, a chef, and other helpers. A pantry vehicle follows the bus carrying pilgrims. Fortunately, our Sherpa team consisted of very caring and jovial persons.

 Our aim was to cross the Kodari border that day. We took the Arniko highway that connects Kathmandu with China occupied Tibet. Kodari is a small township comprising Tibetan migrants mostly. Nepali people are scantly visible. It is the last town of Nepal. Traveler inns are available providing only basic amenities.

Image Courtesy:Prajna LS
Kodari lies in a God gifted ambience. Whether it is a boon or a curse, one should decide for himself. Situated on top of a Himalayan valley, the town is blessed with a picturesque landscape. Green hills, countless waterfalls and the meandering Botikosi River flowing down the valley make this town look beautiful. However, the fate of migrants is a big question mark. Poverty and an uncertain future haunt the township and that is strikingly visible for travelers.

 The road to Kadori from Kathmandu is called the Arniko Highway. This road has been constructed with the initiatives taken by the China Government for the improvement of bilateral trade and commerce. You can’t call it a proper highway. It is a narrow strip of road skirted by steep hills on side and the Botikosi River Valley on the other side. Landslides are common during rains. We could notice the damage already done by previous landslides. A scary highway indeed.

A bridge has been built across the Botikosi River and the bridge is known as ‘Friendship Bridge’. This bridge is a part of the Arniko Highway connecting China with Nepal. One will have to cross the bridge on foot. Nepali vehicles are not allowed on this. A red line has been drawn in the middle to mark the boundary between two countries. Chinese military commandos will be guarding on the other half. Border crossing is done through strict immigration process.

Chinese immigration center is located on the Chinese side of the bridge. That area is called Zangmu. The United Nations has not officially recognized Chinese status on the Tibetan territory. However, China is executing its supremacy over the land and visitors are supposed to respect the law of the land. After crossing the border, tourists will have to travel with Chinese travel guides in the Chinese permit vehicles.

Due to Indo-China border tensions the Kailsh Manas Sarovar Yatra was banned from 1962 to 1981. Kadori is the only official gateway to enter China from Nepal side. We were strictly warned in Kathmandu as not to talk about political affairs of China and about Dalai Lama.  It is almost a known factor there. There seems to be an undeclared deal among the Nepali merchants/businessmen/traders/travel agencies. They do not encourage any kind of activities against the Chinese policies in Kathmandu or anywhere inside the Chinese territory. In that way they have secured entry into the Chinese territory. One can use the trade route for uninterrupted trade and commerce. That must be the reason, perhaps, that the number of private travel agencies in Kathmandu is increasing day by day for conducting Kailash-Manas Sarovar Yatra. These private agencies assure us of a safe journey inside the Chinese Territory for the same reason. As long as one does not protest or keeps showing green signal to the Chinese Supremacy the show goes on!

Most of our travel mates were elders. Most of them had come to accomplish the ultimate yatra, it was a dream come true for them. They were excited, thrilled to have that ultimate experience of reaching the abode of Shiva. However, the Kailash Manasarovar yatra (on this route) makes us to think about the bilateral relations of India and Nepal with China. We did share a bit of unexplainable anxiety, could observe the same in the eyes of the migrant workers crossing the bridge everyday for the daily bread.

One needs to obtain a valid passport and a Chinese Visa before crossing the border. We had group Visa, but we had to get through the immigration check in. The Chinese agent booked by the Nepali travel agency must be present on the Chinese side to complete the formalities. To our bad luck, that fellow didn’t turn up on that day. We were put up in a roadside inn. We waited till the evening for the Chinese guide. Late in the evening, our Nepali guide came back with the message that the Chinese guide would come next day morning. We were made to stay in the same inn where we had lunch that noon.
Image Courtesy:Prajna LS

Image Courtesy:Prajna LS
Houses of that town were roughly built on the hill slope, terraced residences. Timber houses without foundation. The Inn we had stayed was built on the edge of a slope overlooking the Botikosi river stream. It had a balcony and if we stand on that we would feel as if we were standing on a hanging bridge! Such an unstable condition. Kids of migrant workers rush towards you asking for snacks, and money. Pretty and adorable Tibetan faces, mostly girls and women were seen.

Next day, we woke up to a chilly morning, bought hot water paying 100 Nepali rupees for each bucket, had bath and got ready to cross the border. After this day, we again had bath only in Kathmandu on our return journey, on the twelfth day!  It is just five minutes’ walk from our inn to the Friendship Bridge. We crossed the bridge in a line. It was indeed an emotional moment for all of us to cross the border of a country on foot. I was imagining about the experience of crossing the Indo-Pak border!

Photography is not allowed on the bridge. Even at the immigration center, visitors are not allowed to take photos. But, we noticed a few foreign visitors shooting outside the immigration center. Please confirm anyway with your travel guides before taking snaps. We took a snap of the bridge from a far distance.
The Chinese guide had arrived and we proceeded towards Nyalam in a bus. The road from Zangmu to Manassarovar is well maintained. We would be provided with a well conditioned luxury bus to travel. So, the bus journey till we reach Manas Sarovar is completely hassle free. But, one can’t be so confident about the accommodation facility. Now, we have entered the Tibetan Plateau.

Let’s explore the Tibetan plateau in the next episode!


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Kailash-Manas Sarovar Yatra Series-3


Kathmandu to Kadori


Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal is an ocean of mysteries. It is one of the ancient cities of Nepal comprising Hindu, Buddhist and local Nepali culture. At the outset, the city does not open up to strangers. Temples of ancient Hindu origin, Buddhist Stupas, Tantric cult, relics of vanishing royalty, and the silent presence of China can represent only half of the umpteen hidden stories. 
 We were there for only one day and were allowed to go out till the evening to explore the city. In the evening, we were supposed to attend a training session conducted by our travel supervisors. We were put up in a three star hotel near the airport. Yatris (pilgrims) coming from various part of India were there. Our batch of pilgrims consisted of around twenty yatris from Karnataka. A small group had come from Delhi. All of us were set to start our Yatra the next day.
We woke up to a misty morning; the city was drenched in rains the night before. The local guides had told us that they would take us to see Pashupatinath Temple at around 9 a.m. We, three ladies (me, my aunt and my sister-in-law) wished to have a morning walk. We found a joggers pathway just in front of our hotel.
We found group of ladies wearing red and yellow saris walking up and down that path. Some passerby said that the pathway leads to the Pashupatinath Temple and the ladies were dressed up for Naga Panchami celebrations. As we moved back, we were tempted by a roadside tea vendor and we sat on the small cane stools before the vendor. It was she. Her name was Manju. As we were sipping the hot tea served in tiny plastic cups an old woman whose hair was knotted into a bun on top of her head came there, took another stool and perched there. She had worn a brown colored sari and was joined by another woman wearing similar kind of sari. As we greeted they smiled at us. Manju served black tea to them. They were conversing in Nepali Bhasa. In a few minutes, as we were watching, Manju offered a cigarette to the top knotted old woman, and the lady started puffing fumes!
The moment was like a flash of experience for us. I knew about Nepali men and women puffing Ganja (Marijuana). One can recall the song ‘Dum Maro Dum’ from Devanand’s film Hare Rama Hare Krishna! When we asked, the woman told her name, it was Velmayi. Earlier, on our walk, we had met another old woman plucking some tender herbs on the roadside. Whenever I recall this ‘flash of experience’, I feel like visiting Kathmandu once again to spend lengthy hours with these women to hear their stories!  
We took a round of the city in the noon. We visited Pashupatinath Temple. This ancient temple of Shiva is situated on the banks of Bhagmati River. It was crowded with women in bright hues. Saris in red, yellow and green combination, bright red lipstick, vermillion on the forehead, flowers to hair and bead necklaces…gleeful Nepali women in groups were seen everywhere. 
Image Courtesy:Prajna LS
 Some were sitting before priests performing rituals, some were dancing in the temple courtyard, and some were standing in the long queue waiting for their turn to have a darshan of the deity. We were not allowed to take the camera inside the temple premises. So, I missed taking a picture of that ancient structure. 
 After that, we were taken to the well known Bouddhanath Stupa of Nepal. That evening we attended a briefing session about trekking. We were given down jackets; these are provided by the travels people for rent. They took 500 Nepali rupees. Next day, we were supposed to cross the Friendship Bridge at Kodari and reach Nyalam. 

 


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Kailash-Manas Sarovar Yatra Series-2


Image Credit:Prajna LS

Route:
Lake Manas Sarovar could be approached by more than two routes. It is located in the Tibet Autonomous Region that is generally considered an occupied territory of China. Geographically, the lake is situated on the rugged Tibetan plateau which is a territory of China now.
We had booked 13 days yatra starting from Kathmandu, Nepal. One can reach the lake by road. So, it would not be a problem to reach Lake Manas Sarovar. The lake is connected by a smooth tar road on the Chinese side. It is called the Araniko Highway.
We took flights to Delhi and from Delhi to Kathmandu. Kathmandu is the base destination. The route we took was this: from Kathmandu to Kodari (Border), Kodari to Nyalam, Nyalam to Dongba, Dongba to Manas Sarovar. We stayed in Kodari, Nyalam and Dongba on the way to the lake. We had to cross the border between Nepal and China occupied Tibet (Tibet Autonomous Region) at Kadori which is located at about 115 km from Kathmandu.
Once after reaching Kathmandu the pilgrims will have to travel in a bus provided by the travel agency. Till the Chinese border we traveled in a Nepali travel bus and after crossing the border the Chinese guides arranged our transportation. That means the bus which carried us till the border will go back to Kathmandu and will come again the day when we return from the yatra.
The next step to be achieved after arriving at Manas Sarovar is the three day Kailash Parikraman. This is a tough job to be accomplished on foot about which I will write later.
Preparation:
The destination is located in the Tibetan Plateau which is known for unpredictable climate conditions. On the way to Manas Sarovar and in the three day Kailash Parikrama period be prepared for unexpected rains, sudden variations in temperature and heavy wind. More than that, the location is situated at high altitude. One needs to get acclimatized in those extreme climatic conditions.
The main difficulty is to manage ‘altitude sicknesses. Acute head ache, loss of appetite, nausea and fever may trouble you any time. Do carry a medicine kit along with you.
Do carry enough cloths to keep yourself warm. Dress up in layers. Wear thermals first. Then, wear your normal dress; it could be either salvar or jeans. Over that, wear a winter jacket (either a woolen sweater or a jacket). The outer layer should be a down jacket. Depending on the climate, you would be asked to take off warm cloths if it is hot.
A pair of leather (or woolen) gloves, 6 pair socks, winter cap, muffler, raincoat, torch, dry fruits, flask, a walking stick, sunglass, lotions, sports shoes with good grip are necessary things. You may buy these things in Kathmandu or in Nyalam. Go through a medical check up to assure that you are fit to take up trekking at high altitudes. A medical certificate is a must.
You are required to get a Chinese Visa and for that you need to have a valid passport. If you go through a private travel agency, then, the group Visa will be done by the travels people. Carry Chinese currency as much as you require and remember notes of rupees 500 will not be accepted in Nepal.
Start doing physical exercise (brisk walking or yoga) at least a month prior to the yatra. Take care as not to catch cold during that period that would make you vulnerable to adverse climate. Successful completion of the Yatra solely depends upon your health and will power.
Hear the experience straight from the horse’s mouth! I will start the narrative in the next episode.

[To be continued…]



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A visit to Trimbakeshwara, Nashik Part-1


I am not a travel buff. Most of my expeditions are of recreational kind, and family oriented trips. Love to sit and sip in a couch at a corner of my sweet home and I do travel through my mind, and try to reach across all depths of my inner world!
Kids do not listen. As and when they declare their holiday schedule, it has been mandatory for us to look out for various travel destinations. This year we were at Nashik during Deepawali vacations. The pilgrimage city Nashik is located in Maharashtra on the banks of Godavari River. It is at about 180 km away from my home town Aurangabad; about three and half hours drive in a taxi.
However, we decided to travel by train. We took the morning Jan Shatabdi express from Aurangabad that leaves at 6 ‘O’ clock and reaches Nashik at about 8.45 am. We had already booked rooms to avoid last minute anxiety and had hired a taxi for travelling around the city. We were there for only two days, next evening were back to Aurangabad by the evening train.
Nashik is gearing up for Maha Kumbhamela to be held in 2015. Everywhere in the city, we could hear the buzz about forthcoming Kumbhamela. A 13 km long flyover bridge has been built to control the major traffic. Maha Kumbhamela is a huge congregation of devotees to be held at river banks for a ritual bath. 
Image credit :Prajna ls
People belonging to all sects and traditions (not necessarily Hindus) gather at river banks for a bathing ritual that would be fixed according to Hindu calendar. This congregation takes place once in twelve years or once in six years. Kumbhamelas are held at four places in India: Haridwar, Allahabad, Nashik and Ujjain. It is a kind of ritualistic Yatra in Indian traditions.
Nashik is one of those cities in India that houses a ‘Jyotirlinga’. The ‘Jyotirlinga’ lies inside an ancient temple. There are twelve ‘Jyotirlingas of Shiva’ in India and one among them is located in Trimbakeshwar near Nashik city. This is situated at the foothills of Brahmagiri where Godavari River originates.
As we had already decided, we moved towards Trimbakeshwar directly from the railway station. The temple is located at 40 km distance from Nashik city. If you visit the temple during hot seasons, say for instance during festivals or holidays, you will have to stand in a long queue for the Darshan. Since it was a holiday season, we had to wait for about two and half hours to get the darshan.
It is an ancient temple built by a Peshwa King. Visitors are not allowed to take photos. We were moved by the beautiful stone carvings on the outer portion of the temple. There was huge crowd that day, so people were pushing us for quick ‘darshan’ of the deity. The ‘lingam’ is said to be invisible there. Actually, what we see as lingam is a hollow.
Trimbakeswar is best known for performing ancestral rituals of Hindus. We see people performing various other kinds of rituals also, especially the Naga Bali Puja. We dipped our legs and sprinkled the water on ourselves in ‘Kushavartha’, that is the pond from where Godavari River takes its further course.
It is such a beautiful place that we wished to stay there for some more time. One can visit the place all through the day, so a visit during evenings or in the early mornings would be more pleasant I feel. We returned to Nashik thinking about spending an evening at the temple to enjoy the sunset.
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Kailash-Manas Sarovar Yatra Series-1

 
Image credit: Prajna L S
Kailash–Manas Sarovar Yatra is one of the toughest spiritual yatras of Hindu, Jain and Buddhist traditions. The author of this write up has been one of those fortunate pilgrims to accomplish the three day Kailash Parikrama successfully. So, in this series of articles, she would be sharing her experience. She would make an attempt to perceive the significance of this particular yatra.
The present series would introduce the destination by providing useful information and tips concerning the yatra. This series of articles is based on the Kailash Yatra 2013.
I begin by introducing the concept called ‘Yatra’ itself. It can roughly be translated as ‘pilgrimage’, but, a ‘Yatra’ for an Indian has wider implications. It is not just visiting the holy places and sites.
In fact, in Indian way of living a particular term called ‘Yatra’ is used for making a journey. Yatra means journey and it also means a particular kind of procession or gathering at some specific places at some specific time. Roughly, you could term it as ‘pilgrimage’ but no rituals are mandatory in Indian pilgrimages. Yatra is a ritual. A metaphor. A spiritual journey.
A yatra can be done by visiting ancient holy cities, birth places of deities, temples, rivers, lakes and mountains. These kinds of Yatras are usually known as ‘Teertha Yatras’ that means the journey to holy locations. It is a kind of ritual to be performed.
Hindus perform rituals at river banks for their ancestors. However, India consists of various other traditions also. So, ‘Yatras’ are done by devotees following other than Hindu traditions. Char Dham Yatra, Kailas Manas Sarovar Yatra, Amarnath Yatra, Shaktipeeth Yatra, Jyotirling Yatra, Kashi-Rameshwar Yatra…India consists of innumerable ‘Yatra’ locations.
Sometimes at river confluences rituals would be held, and devotes throng at the confluences in huge numbers. This kind of gathering at river banks is called ‘Mela’ and a journey to participate in such Melas is also a part of Yatra tradition. Kumbha Mela and Maha Kumbha Melas are two well known ‘Melas’ in India conducted at river banks.
Most of you must have heard of the Jagannath Ratha Yatra at Puri, Orissa. This unique kind of Yatra is held every year by celebrating a ritualistic journey of the deity. This is a celebration by pulling the Temple Chariot on which the deity will be placed. These ritualistic Yatras will be held in many other places of India.
Kailash-Manas Sarovar Yatra is considered the ultimate among all yatras in India. One needs to be fit both mentally and physically to ‘perform’ this yatra. I have deliberately used the word ‘perform’ since I see this yatra as a kind of ‘ritual’ to be performed.
It was by chance I joined the yatra. Usually the Ministry of External Affairs conducts this tour every year. But, this year due to the havoc created by Monsoon rains in the Uttarakhand region the Government had cancelled the yatra. However, we went by a private tourist agency named Nirmala Travels. This travel agency located in Bangalore has tied up with a Nepali travel agency named Shrestha Travels.
In the next post you would know about the route map of Kailash Yatra and about the things to carry for Kailash Manas Sarovar Yatra!

[To be continued…]
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"Bhimashankar" one of twelve jothirlinga of Shiva in India

Bhimashankar temple


 Bhimashankar temple is a pilgrimage spot in the Khed Taluk of Pune. It is in the village called Bhojgiri which is 50kms from Khed. Bhimashankar temple has one of the twelve Jyotirlingas of Shiva. The place is situated in the Sahyadri hills and is the birth place of river Bhima. The temple will be visited by a huge crowd of devotees every year during Mahashivratri festival.  In total the State of Maharashtra hosts four Jyotirlinga sites; the other three are Trimbkeshwar (Nashik), Aunda Nagnath (Parli) and Grishneshwar (Ellora). 

 Devotees come to Bhimashankar to pay obeisance to the Jyotirlinga which is much revered by the Hindus. If one accomplishes the tour of all the twelve Jyotirlingas in his lifetime he would be over joyous. The temple was built around the thirteenth century. It is an ancient temple built in Nagara style. Back in ancient times Lord Shiva seems to have obliged to the request made by other Gods to kill demons. Thus he took the form Bhimashankar to save them from the demons and made this place in the Sahyadri hills as his abode. 

 Bhimashankar offers a soothing experience combined with lofty hill view, green forests and tranquil nature. You can visit a wildlife sanctuary situated nearby, and Bhima River’s place of origin. 

How to reach :

 You can reach Bhimashankar via Pune by air. Pune is the nearest airport to the place. If you are travelling by road then you can start from Pune. It is about 127kms drive from Pune. There are two different routes from Pune to reach the place. If you are coming from Mumbai then take Pune road, go via Chakan. 
Visitors will get minimum luxury at the temple. The temple authorities provide accommodation for the guests. However the trip to Bhimashankar could be accomplished in a day if you start from Pune. So, you can stay at Pune if you want. 
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Shani Shingnapur - a major pilgrimage place of Lord Shanidev



Shani Shingnapur is a popular village located in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra state. The village lies in Nevasa tahsil and is famous for its Shani Temple. The presiding deity of the temple is Lord Shanidev, the embodiment of a planet Shani (Saturn).  Shani Shingnapur is famous across the world for an interesting fact that no house in the village has doors. Despite that there is no case of theft in the village. People here believe that Lord Shanidev punishes those people who make an attempt of theft in the village. And therefore no report of theft could be found in the village so far.  In 2011 United Commercial Bank opened its ‘lockless branch’ in Shani Shingnapur. The bank branch is one of its kinds in India. It is different thing that bank administration has now started to take some safety measures after the local police claimed that the bank is breaching the code of safety measures prescribed by the Central Government of India for all banks in the country.   
Five and half feet high black rock symbolizing the god of Shani (Saturn) serves to be the main deity of the temple here. A Trisul (trident) is placed near the deity. An image of Nandi (bull) is also placed there. Small images of lord Shiva and Hanuman could be located there. Shani Shingnapur has become a major pilgrimage centre for Hindus. Every day the village witnesses thousands of devotees thronging the place to seek the blessing of Lord Shanidev. The number of devotees runs into the hundreds of thousand on the day of Amavasya (new moon day). The day of Amavasya is believed to be an auspicious one to appease Lord Shanidev.  The day of Shani Amavasya (the new moon day falling on Saturday) assumes utmost importance here. On the occasion of Shani Amavasya Shani Shingnapur hosts a large fair and witnesses a sea of people coming from different parts of the country.  Samadhi (tomb) of Sant Shri Udasi Baba and Shri Dattatray temple are other religious places situated in Shani Shingnapur.
How to reach:
Shani Shingnapur is just 35 km away from Ahmednagar city, while it is just 84 km away from Aurangabad which serves as the nearest airport to the village. Ghodegaon which is located on Aurangabad- Ahmednagar national highway is just 5 km away from Shani Shingnapur. If you are coming from Nasik by road or railway get down at Rahuri which is 32 km away from Shani Shingnapur. Ahmednagar, Shrirampur, and Belapur are other nearby railway stations to the village. There are services of buses, jeeps, taxis to Shani Shingnapur. Shirdi which is another prominent pilgrimage place is just 65 km away from the village of Shani Shingnapur.
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Srikalahasti

 

  Srikalahasti is a town situated near Tirupati in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India. It is a temple town and mainly known for its numerous temples. Devotees visiting Tirupati, a famous pilgrimage center, also halt at Srikalahasti. It is located on the banks of Swarnamukhi. It is also famous for the temple of Shiva located there. It is believed that the name Srikalahasti is made up of three words Sri, Kala and Hasti which mean Spider, Serpent and elephant respectively.  Some Legendary tales are associated with it and they narrate how these three animals got redemption with their great devotion to lord Shiva. 
  There are many temples in and around the town of Srikalahasti. Srikalahastiva temple in Srikalahasti is known as Kailash of the South. This ancient temple is devoted to lord Shiva.
Durgambika temple :
Durgambika temple is another place of worship in Srikalahasti. This ancient temple is devoted to Goddess Durgambika and is surrounded by beautiful nature. The temple is visited by both devotees and tourists.
Bharadwaja Theertham :
Bharadwaja Theertham is another place of religious and tourist attraction near Srikalahasti. It is situated near the beautiful stream of water. It houses a beautiful idol of Vinayaka. Bhakt Kannapa temple and Chaturmukeshwara temple are some of many other temples to be seen in and around the Srikalahasti.
Temperature of Srikalahasti varies from 30 to 43 degree Celsius in summer while it remains 21 to 32 degree Celsius in winter. October to march is the best time to visit the place.
How to reach :
Srikalahasti is well connected by rail and road to other parts and the state and the country. Srikalahasti railway station is well connected to other major cities of south India. Many state run buses and other private vehicle are available from many cities and towns of the state. Tirupati is just 60km away from Srikalahasti and serves as nearest airbase to it. Tirupati is well connected by many flights to other major cities of the state and the country.
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