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Kailash Parikrama – Day 2

At Derapuck, our first overnight camp, we rested well and got up early to undertake the hardest journey of our lives. The second day’s travel was 25 kilometers, crossing Dolma pass, the highest mountain pass in the world. This pass is at an altitude of 5750 meters above the sea level. Some of us decided to ride on a horse back while others decided to walk. By God’s grace the sky was
very clear and the weather conditions were good. After trekking for about 2 kilometers on flat land, we reached the base of a tall mountain. Our path crossed over this mountain to the other side. The road was extremely narrow and through difficult terrain. Only a single person or a horse could walk at a time. With scant oxygen in the air, it was very difficult to climb. We had to stop after each step, take a deep breath and then take the next step. Even the horses had to stop often to breathe. On several occasions, I actually had to get down so the horse could walk. We had to constantly sip water to stay hydrated.

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Finally, after 4 hours, we reached the top of the mountain and rested our exhausted bodies for a while! The next part of the trek involved downhill travel. The descent was so steep that horseback riders had to get down and walk so the horses wouldn’t fall. After trekking for a while, we saw a holy pond called Gourikund. The water was very clear and still but it was difficult to get some due to the steep slope and rocks. But one of our sherpas was very kind. He descended down to the pond very skilfully and brought the holy water back to us. Our day was made and the hard journey suddenly seemed all worthwhile!

Kailash Parikrama – Day 2

Rocking Hampi

Ironic that my first ever contribution to a blog begins with a story of so many more firsts. They say, 'There's always a first time’ and I'm so glad I've had so many of them.

In totally random order... this was indeed...

The first planned vacation with my family after marriage!

The first time I drove miles to a temple and didn't step in!

The first time it hit me how my only little brother was not little anymore!

My first memorable brush with my roots, where we really come from!

The first vacation without hubby dear after marriage!

My first road trip ever!

Entrance to HampiI could go on. At the risk of contradicting myself, besides all these firsts, it still seemed just like before - The four of us, Mom, Dad, Brother & me on a holiday during the summer vacations. Without getting into more details, the point is we discovered different aspects of a place deeply etched into the history of India. The richest Indian Empire - Vijaynagar Kingdom. Just for you to map this one right, Goa was a part of this Empire, more than 400 years ago. It is a part of the Incredible India campaign, a world heritage site, more popularly known as Hampi! I'm not going to touch upon the history or the famous stories related to the place. Wikipedia & Google will keep you reading about those for days! Yes this was the richest empire India ever saw aptly called The Golden Age. The bazaars sold rubies & diamonds in kilos and similar measures all in the open. What we see today, Hampi, is just the remnants, the mere foundation of what was buried for ever centuries. In the early 1980’s, the Karnataka Government took the initiative & as a result of excavations over the years, these huge stone structures rose up giving India & the world a Heritage site – Hampi. 

Idols at HampiTo put it very simply, all there is to see here is the ruins of temples and palaces. All these looted & sadly destroyed within a mere 6 months of the Mughal invasion. What hit me and for a very personal reason was, how they had stolen or shattered the idols in all the temples. I am not a person who religiously visits temples but I share a strong spiritual connect with Lord Ganesh! It hurt me to see how all the trunks were missing almost everywhere. We know the Mughals did not believe in idol worship. But here you can see how much they might have detested it. A broken or cracked idol is not worshipped by Hindus and hence all these temples lie deserted today. Only four walls, devastated idols, in most places, no idols and merely stone over stone is what remains. To me, the very reason they are all so clean and well maintained and more so a big attraction to the foreigners is the fact that they are not worshipped anymore.

The more obvious reason for attacking and rampaging the temples was the wealth it housed. Most of the kingdom’s treasures were stored in temples those days. Besides the idols were made of rich sandalwood, gold and adorned with all precious stones and jewellery.

Hampi - Hawa MahalWithout being biased, just with an intention to share what I took back from this was another shocking fact. All the structures which were built in the Islamic style still remain beautiful and untouched. They’re only eroded naturally but not destroyed or attacked at all. A perfect example being the Lotus Mahal or Hawa Mahal, a place for the recreation of the Queens. 

When you reach Hampi, you can take a guided tour of around 3 hours which we did on Day 1. I’ll leave that for you to discover. A silent wish for anyone who reads this to be able to visit this magical kingdom once in their lifetime! The next day we took all the routes opposite the guided ones. Quoting my little brother, ‘Sometimes you get the best things when you take the wrong path.’ Make what you have to of this, but we all agreed in this case. All we found was rocks, boulders, quarries, lush greens... pure, untouched art of some Supreme Force that exists, somewhere, everywhere you go! To me it felt like I was looking at His ‘Lagori’ (a local game played by arranging a tower of seven stones and aiming to knock them all off with one stone’s throw).Hampi Boulders

These stones have been arranged like they would rumble and tumble down any moment but that’s exactly what they don’t do. Man has slit them apart and used them for several purposes. That’s what I took home from the wrong path – ‘The power of the Supreme Force & the power of Man... how we co-exist peacefully in nature. Every second that we experience this is a miracle indeed!’

Where? How to get there? What’s the best time? What are the places to see? Find all answers at www.hampi.in


Rocking Hampi

Kailash Parikrama – Day 1

Click here to read Day 2 of Kailash Parikrama.

Have you ever seen GOD? I mean the ultimate Generator (Brahma), Operator (Vishnu) and Destroyer (Mahesh/Shiva). While I can’t claim to have experienced that supreme honor,  I feel very fortunate to have seen the abode of Sri Shiva…..the legendary Kailash Parvat.

Planning for the trip was a cake walk. Kesari Travels, a trusted and well respected name in the travel business offers Kailash-Manasarovar tours. We signed up for the 17 day tour starting from Kathmandu in Nepal. Kesari took care of all the arrangements, including the Chinese Visa, as Mount Kailash and Manasarovar are in Tibet (China occupied territory). 

Kailash Parikrama (Circling Mount Kailash) is the most exciting part of the tour. This is a very tough 57 Km long journey, starting from a place called Yamadwar and ending in Darchen. The only modes of travel here are walking or riding a horse.


On the first day of the Parikrama, everybody was very enthusiastic about the journey ahead. We were in total awe of the beautiful scenery around us. It really didn’t matter that we were at an altitude of 5082 meters with scant oxygen in the air, bone freezing cold and high concentration of ultra-violet rays. We started our travel through a valley. It was a breathtaking view with high mountains on both sides and the dusty road zig-zagging through the rough terrain. There wasn’t a single tree in sight. The vast spread of barren land and gigantic mountains made me realize how small and insignificant man is before this massive wonder of nature.

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We traveled for about 8 hours to reach our first night’s stay at Derapuck. Totally tired, dried up and exhausted, we were looking forward to a good night’s sleep. While looking at Kailash Parvat from our camp, we suddenly got the darshan of Lord Shiva, sitting with Parvati and other deities. Half of Lord Shiva’s face was bright, and the other half was dark. There was a smile on the divine face like that of Nataraj. Everybody was mesmerized by this amazing sight….. Mother Nature’s beautiful carvings on the majestic Kailash Parvat. All our exhaustion was gone in an instant and we retired for the day, looking forward to next day’s journey!

Click here to read Day 2 of Kailash Parikrama.

Kailash Parikrama – Day 1

Destination Singapore

The demand for foreign tours is picking up in India. In many cases foreign tours are cheaper than domestic tours. So people prefer foreign tours. A number of tour operators have come up with very attractive domestic & international tour packages. Most popular international tours are to destinations like Singapore Malaysia, Thailand, Maldives, Dubai and Sri Lanka.




Merlion


I undertook a tour of Singapore and Malaysia in 2008. This is the most favorite destination these days. My experience may help those of you who wish to plan an international tour from India. The first step in planning is to decide on undertaking a ‘group tour or individual tour. For senior citizens group tours are safer and cheaper too. Next step involves choice of tour operator. This is very critical from the point of cost, safety, food & local sightseeing. While deciding on a tour operator following points need careful consideration:



1. Reputation and reliability of tour operator.


2. Payment terms. Stage wise payment option preferred.


3. Cost of tour.


4. To & Fro Air ticket.


5. Airport taxes.


6. Inclusions.


7. Exclusions.


8. Oversees Med claim Insurance.


9. Guided sight seeing.


10. Airport transfers.


11. Documentation required.


12. Visa assistance.


13. Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner.


14. Local site entry fees and tips.


15. Tourist points covered by the operator during tour.



River Cruise


While considering cost of tour you must thoroughly look in to the inclusions and exclusions mentioned by the tour operator. It is preferable to insist on inclusion of services such as Air ticket, airport taxes, airport transfers, tour guide, health insurance, visa assistance, visa fee, breakfast, lunch, dinner, sightseeing entry fees, tips in hotels and local transport.



Inclusion of above will make tour plan hassle free. If not included, you may have to pay in foreign currency abroad. Meals particularly for vegetarians is a big problem abroad, if your itinerary does not include meals you will go almost hungry. Hotel you stay may not offer vegetarian items, you may not be able to find suitable hotel nearby. Hotels may be not be affordable. You will not know where to find a suitable eating place in a new city. Hiring transport for food may be costly. You will not get enough time to hunt for meals on your own.



If services such as sight entry fees, tips, guide fees etc. are excluded by the tour operator you must obtain the exact amounts you may have to pay in foreign currency on these incidentals before proceeding on tour.



Thus keeping all these aspects in view I selected Sachin Travels (http://www.sachintravels.in) located at Mumbai to book my tour. The agency is reliable and takes good care of tourists. Their tour guide accompanies the group from Mumbai airport. He assists first timers and old people in completing emigration & boarding formalities at entry and exit point airports. Thus, if you are sponsoring a trip for old parents you need not worry about them when they are under the care of Sachin Travels. Since all items listed above, were included in tour cost opted by us, we had no problem in finding hotels, meals, transport, guides in Singapore & Malaysia. Everything was arranged by tour operator. While on sightseeing tour they take you to best Indian hotels for lunch/dinner. Sachin Travels are favored tour operators for maharastrians.  The guide accompanying tourist from Mumbai speaks in local dialect as well as in hindi & English.





Jurong Bird Park



Singapore is a tropical island of 252 Sq miles in South East Asia. It was a part of Federation of Malaysia since the time of British rule.  It became republic in Dec 1965. Singapore is very beautiful and lush green city. It has developed as the best tourist destination in this region. It is also the safest city in the world. Unlike India, city and the tourist places are very neat & well organized. Public transport is very convenient. City boasts of large number of tourist attractions.



To mention a few:



1 Sentosa Island


2 Jurong Bird park


3 Merlion


4 Zoos


5 Night Safari


6 River Cruise


7 Under Water World


8 Museums & Parks



Are must see places.

Destination Singapore

Shegaon

I visited Shegaon to visit the Gajanan Maharaj Samadhi at the Temple. My previous visit to Shegaon was in the last decade. The garden was still in works and my uncle (mama) lived in Shegaon. So we had a place to stay.

Shegaon Dhyan MandirThis time, as I was planning my India trip, my mother said “lets go to Shegaon. We can stay at the Bhakt Nivas the Shegaon Sanstha runs.” My vacation planner brain immediately wanted to book a room right away. . “Can we book a room?” “Well, it is first come first serve. But don’t worry they have enough rooms.”

This was my younger son’s first India trip. He was under 2 and the only thing we really watch for is the water. They get to drink only filtered, boiled water. No bisleri or bottled water for them. For our 2 day trip I figured 5 liters of filtered boiled water would be enough for the kids.

We reached Shegaon. It is a very typical small pilgrim town in western Maharashtra. A small railway station and a small bus depot located near each other. Dusty narrow streets lined with the tin tea shops and the paan shops.Lines of bisleri bottles sit shining in the bright sun on the counter. Clouds of dust float every time a ST or a jeep passes by. I am glad I had boiled water for the kids.

We reached ‘Bhakt nivas”. As soon as you cross the gates and are into Bhakt Nivas there is a marked difference. All the chaos that rules outside is gone. Every thing seems to have an order. There is a large central square open space for the cars to park. Buildings mark the 4 sides of the square. Each building probably houses around 500 rooms. The rooms cannot be reserved in advance and are given on a first come first serve basis. The room rental charges are extremely reasonable. Two valets attend on us. The elevator transports us and the luggage to our 4 th floor room. The elevator has a person running the elevator. He is in charge of pressing the buttons and making sure the capacity of elevator is not exceeded. The two valets settled down our luggage,filled in water in the water cooler, filled a jug of water with nice cold water that we were not going to use and brought us fresh hot tea. The kids and the kids in us adults began to explore the room. It was a nice spacious room. It had 3 double beds, bed side tables, a full length mirror, a sofa, and a coffee table, cooler and attached bathroom. The interesting detail about all the furniture is that only the coffee table was made of wood and could be moved around. Everything else was made of marble and attached to the floor. It was a comfortable, beautiful spacious room.

The “vatika” or the gardens are a few kilometers away from the Bhakt Nivas. Sanstha buses run every 30 minutes free of charge. The gardens are very beautiful.They are comparable to the Lodhi Gardens in Delhi or the Jardin des Tuileries in Paris. Just as one could grab a chair to sit in Jardin des Tuileries, one can check out a mat and have a little afternoon siesta in one of the little hut like shelters built just for the “nappers”. There is a little train that goes around the park and is good idea to ride it to get an idea of the magnitude of the park. The two main attractions are the “Dhyan Mandir” and the musical fountains show. The “Dhyan Mandir” is a beautiful structure for meditation built in the middle of the lake. The musical fountains show is one of the best of its kind and worth all the planning for a watch. There are 2 shows at night and it takes place in an open air auditorium built just for the show. What impressed me the most was the amount of personnel involved in maintaining the place.

The main temple that houses the samadhi of Maharaj works just as orderly as the rest of the place. The out side lane is narrow and is lined with small vendors. Shops with bangles stacked from ceiling to floor, shops selling Maharaj memorabilia, flowers and the prasad. Two elephants join the morning and the evening Aarti. The elephants are very popular with the believers. Inside the temple, you follow the long rows just as at any well maintained temple in India. The samadhi attracts a lot of followers from western Maharashtra and beyond.

The trust runs places to eat at various locations in Shegaon. Within a day the place gained enough of my confidence to buy their bottled water and give it to my kids. We ate only at the Sanstha run canteens and bought water only from their shops. We did fine, the water was good. There isn’t a lot of variety when it comes to food but we managed very well.

Shegaon is worth a visit, the place will definitely surprise you.


Shegaon

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