Narayani Dham

 

The Narayani Dham temple is located near Lonavla, in Tungarli village and is visible from the Mumbai Pune expressway on the right side, if you going towards Pune. You can leave the highway at the Khandala exit and proceed towards Pune on the old Mumbai Pune highway. It is spread out on acres of land and looks elegant and imposing. The structure surrounding the temple is built in Rajasthani style of architecture and looks pretty in pink colour. The temple itself is constructed in white marble. There is excellent staying arrangement at the temple complex and also in the surrounding village of Tungarli. There are rooms available in the temple complex which are clean and tidy. There are very beautiful, well maintained gardens surrounding the main temple, and we liked the rose garden in particular. Ample space for parking is also available. There is a small gaushala near the temple which is also kept clean. In the evening, the colour fountain is put on, and the lighting looks very beautiful. On the left side, is the area where good breakfast as well as lunch-dinner is served at nominal rates. It is better to get the coupons for the same, in advance and come within time, to avoid missing the strict timings or you will be disappointed on missing out on authentic home made Gujarati/Rajasthani fare.

Main temple – The main temple is constructed in white marble and is very well decorated and designed. Before going up the temple steps, you can remove your footwear below the temple and wash your feet before climbing up. The main temple is quite similar to the Birla temples. Upon climbing up the stairs you enter into a huge hall, where you can either stand, sit on the white marble or sit on the plastic chairs kept on the periphery of the huge hall. The ceiling is quite high and grand designs adorn it. The central idol is of goddess Narayani, and a sense of calm descends upon you, in her benevolent gaze. The idol is adorned with jewels and ornaments and is peaceful to look at. The main idol is flanked by idols of Lord Ganesha on one side and Lord Hanuman on the other. You can spend as much time as you want, in their presence and are sure to shed all the stress of your worldly life and face the daily challenges with a renewed vigour.

It’s a must visit place located so very near Mumbai or Pune.

Yatindra Tawde

A trip to Kashmir

Kashmir! The name itself conjures up images of snow capped mountains, verdant green valleys, clear waters of the many rivers and rivulets and snowfall, an unique attraction for us city living people in the tropical zone. At the same time there is a fear, what with so much of negative news for which the state has become infamous for. So 5 years back, when our family friend suggested making a trip to Kashmir, along with common friends, I was sceptical and refused to accompany him. But my curiosity was aroused and I made some enquiries with colleagues in office and some relatives. I was assured that the state is now quite welcoming for tourists, both Indian and foreign. So in 1 month, we decided to undertake the Kashmir tour in the month of May. The stages decided were, Pahalgam – 3 days, Srinagar – 2 days and Gulmarg – 2 days. As the travel day approached, our excitement increased and after making all the preparations, like frantic buying of warm clothes, packing of suitcases and arranging for dry snacks to last us the entire journey we were ready to leave.
Finally the D-day arrived and at the break of dawn, we were ready. So the 3 families were on their way. The assortment of suitcases and sundry bags were loaded into the pre arranged taxis. We reached the airport on time to catch the Air India flight. The first destination was New Delhi airport. We landed at the Delhi airport at around 9.45 am. Here we had to catch another flight from Delhi to Srinagar hence we de-boarded. The first session of photo clicking session followed in the Airport, everyone putting up their best smiling faces for the cameras. After having a quick breakfast at the airport, we rushed to board the flight to Srinagar. This particular leg of the journey is most eye pleasing…for most of the journey you see only the clouds below you, it’s all routine scenery which you are familiar with, in any air journey. But as you reach near the destination and the flight loses altitude to descend, suddenly you start seeing the snow capped Himalayan peaks, bathed in bright sunlight, poking out of the clouds. It’s a indescribable scene, and has to be experienced. As the flight approaches Srinagar, the valley is seen in all its splendour, the Dal lake occupies a pride of place in the visual landscape. Finally we landed and were so happy to step out in the sun. Our friend had made beautiful arrangement and as we came out of the airport, the tempo traveller with its Kashmiri driver , Abbas, was ready for us. We then proceeded towards our first destination, Pahalgam. At first we felt that we were passing through any other north Indian city. But as we left the city behind, we were passing below the canopy of Chinar trees. We were taking in the beautiful sights but one thing immediately caught our attention. There were many big and small cricket bats manufacturers as well as sellers, by the side of the road. Now we were quite late but made a plan to visit one of these factories on the way back. Abbas was instructed accordingly. Shortly most of us were hungry and told Abbas to stop at a good food joint. In about 15 minutes, Abbas had stopped at a place which had no shop board. It looked to be a very small place for us city breds and we approached inside with some apprehension. Two very young, fair and handsome boys came immediately to take our order, dressed in normal clothes and the cutlery which they placed on our table, looked old though clean. We were eating for the first time in Kashmir, and didn’t want to take any chances with the food. So we ordered normal vegetarian fare of paneer masala, one other vegetable which I don’t remember, curd, since it was available and tandoori roti. We waited and waited and after 15 minutes, when we asked, we were told very honestly that since they are a small place, and not many people come by, they don’t keep the food, prepared. Any way, whether it was due to our pushing them or the food was ready, they started serving in 5 minutes. As we tucked into the paneer masala, our eyes went wide, looking at each other with astonishment, the food being so tasty. And the fact that it was served hot, and the tandoori rotis being very crisp and tasty, added to the enticing flavour. Finally a very well fed and satisfied group got up from the table. The wash basin was at the back, and as we went there what do we see!! The river Lidder flowing gently by and on top of that the driver informs us that , the tree under which we are standing is the Walnut tree! Immediately every one looked up to see any walnuts, but alas! This is not the season. But the river Lidder, the great location and the walnut tree certainly made us realise the uniqueness of Kashmir. This river was to keep us company throughout our remaining journey to Pahalgam. As we neared Pahalgam we could see the river rafting clubs by the side of the road and people from all over India and abroad, were awaiting for their turn. All through the journey we were listening to the robust songs of Kishore Kumar, which enhanced our experience. One thing about the Kashmiri rivers, when they flow over a wide enough plain, they are quite calm and silent, but as soon as they have to travel through a narrow space, they become loud and violent.
Pahalgam!! Finally we made our entry into Pahalgam and entered our hotel premises. What an exquisite and beautiful hotel located on the banks of the river Lidder. It was the Pahalgam hotel. On one side of the hotel is the main mall road with its market and on the other side…is heaven!! Huge snow capped mountains and the Lidder river flowing by . In the lawns of the hotel, even the humblest of shrubs, flowering beautiful dainty flowers. Our hotel room itself was a cosy wooden cabin, which had a big chimney inside to give warmth in the chilly weather. Before we entered the room, 2 hotel boys went inside to fire up the chimney. Once the room was pleasantly warm, we entered. Once all had freshened up, we all got together in the common area outside our rooms and excitedly talked about the journey till now. And then we went for dinner. What superbly tasty dinner. It was a mix of Punjabi and Kashmiri! And not very spicy at all. It was the best non-veg dinner we had in a long long time. So the dinner was really ‘sone pe suhaga”
The next day we got up and took our own time to get ready. We had a sumptuous breakfast, which like the dinner of the night before, was tasty too. The hotel receptionist advised us to go for horse riding and so there we were outside the hotel, haggling with the horse jockeys to decide the rates. Once it was decided, 11 horses for us 11 individuals were arranged and we set off on our horse riding experience. No one had earlier rode horses for much time, and we embarked upon the slowest horse journey till date. If any one from outside had seen me riding the horse, he would have mistaken me for a Maratha horseman, but on the inside, I was very apprehensive. The other experience of horse riding we had had, was in our friendly neighbourhood Matheran. But the horse owners were very patient with us, I think most of the tourists they had experienced, must have been similar expert horse riders like us. We had a very long ride, not in terms of the distance covered, but in the amount of time spent on top of the horses. All along, all of us, except the children, were very much intent on maintaining our balance. A slight trot of the horses was enough to make us very jittery. And the ride on the slopes was another nightmare, especially if you are going downhill!! The front legs of the horse are at a lower level whereas the hind legs are at higher elevation, you are not sure whether you should be bending forward or stretching back to maintain balance and on top of that, you can only see the steep incline before you. And god save the people like me who suffer from Vertigo. Anyhow I managed the incline without falling off the horse. Suddenly my friend decided that he was going to emulate the Chambal dacoits, in showing off his riding skills and his horse shot out beyond us. We were marvelling at his horse riding and I was telling others about his cycle riding and bike riding skills in his college days, and as we turned the corner there he was sitting by the side under a tree, nursing his injuries, his horse nearby, happily chomping away on the grass. Concerned we immediately got down from our own horses to check on him and very relieved that it was just a few bruises but obviously he was in pain. The rest of us, except the children, thought it better to walk along side him to take him to a medical shop, but obviously we thought it better to save ourselves from meeting the same fate as our friend. So ended our first horse riding experience in the valley of Kashmir, culminating with a visit to the medical. Of course, later on we had a good laugh over it, the friend who fell, enjoying it the most, such is his great sportsmanship.
The rest of the day was spent in rest and resuscitation. Evening was for shopping time for the ladies in Khadi bhandar. Various trinkets and other sundry things found their way into the shopping bags.
Next day we went to Betaab valley, so named since the movie, Betaab, was shot there. It was a most captivating place and is a must visit for all. The children had lots of fun, what with sundry Icecream and snacks shops in the vicinity. We also visited Chandanwari nearby, which is a starting point for the Amarnath Yatra. Here we did not take up the offer of striding on the horses once again to roam around the place. Just spent a few minutes in the nearby shops selling variety of Kashmiri shawls and these got added to our shopping carts. The evening was spent roaming near the hotel and going near the cool river bank, the clear waters of the river beckoning us to drink it.
The next destination was back to Srinagar city and we were put up on a luxurious boat house which was owned by very gracious hosts. The journey back to Srinagar included a halt at one of the many bat manufacturing units and we were shown the entire process of bat manufacturing, right from shearing of the willow wood, to giving it a proper shape, to fitting of the handle and finally the finishing, oiling and labelling. A bat got added to the shopping cart of one of our friends.
Dal lake – it just goes on and on to eternity. The house boat was exquisitely crafted from the best wood and the interiors were high class and top notch. The entire house boat was ours. Upon entering, you were welcomed into a huge hall with a dining table on one side and plush antique style sofas on the other. A TV was placed in a corner and on top there were expensive chandeliers. Beautiful Kashmiri paintings adorned the walls and one end opened to a sitting area which was under an open sky. It was a beautiful setting with the entire lake spread out in front of us. Another wall of the house boat had a window, which was used as an entrance by sundry hawkers who row by in their small boats . This was a new thing for all of us and we were looking out for such hawkers. In the morning, the flower sellers came by with beautiful Kashmiri lotuses, roses, daisies, daffodils, marygolds and tulips. Such vibrant colours and freshness of the mornings forced us to buy them every morning we were there. Then came the hawkers of vegetables. These too were fresh but since our better halves were not in the mood to enter the kitchen, we skipped them. Instead these vegetables were bought by our hosts to serve us. The evening time, the hawkers of Kashmiri paper mache items. These are made from paper pulp which is first dried and then different articles are prepared. After the shapes of tortoises, birds, elephants, various sizes of boxes are made they are then beautifully hand painted with shiny varnish vibrant colours. These are too beautiful to look at and quite sturdy as well. As you guessed it right, many of such products made an entry into our shopping bags.
Sonmarg – it is said that a visit to Kashmir is not complete unless you visit Sonmarg. Sonmarg is a valley situated on the banks of the Nallah Sindh, a tributary of the Jhelum river. Situated at a distance of @85 kms. from Srinagar, we covered the distance in our tempo traveller to be welcomed in Sonmarg by who else – the horses. This time we had no choice but to mount the horses once again and we did it with a prayer on the lips. But the ride here was better since the path was through a meadow and when we reached the glacier , we forgot everything else and dived immediately into the various activities on offer. But first you had to be well prepared, so the first thing to do, was to take gumboots on rent, so that your normal shoes don’t tear or don’t get wet and you can walk on the hard snow of the glacier. If you want to enjoy on the snow you should be ready to give full freedom to the inner child within you. So there we were trying to ski, sitting on a sledge and being pulled on the snow by someone, sliding down the gentle slopes and so many other activities. After enjoying ourselves for almost 3 hours, a totally satiated group left for the hotel again.
The next day was for visiting the Mughal gardens , Nishat baug, Shalimar baug, Chasmeshahi, Hazrat bal and Shankaracharya temple. The gardens are very well maintained with blooming flowers and beautifully landscaped with flowing waters in all. The Mughals had very aesthetic tastes and you can only imagine the grandeur of that bygone era. A must visit! The Hazratbal shrine is very peaceful and you have to experience the serene atmosphere. The next destination was the Shankaracharya temple. Built on the top of a 1000 feet tall hill, the entire plains of the Kashmir valley are visible on a clear day. It is a very ancient temple and was also known as the takht-i-Suleiman. It was a spiritual experience at the top of the hill.
Gulmarg – Gulmarg is the main attraction in Kashmir, surrounded as it is on all sides by snow clad peaks. We reached Gulmarg from Srinagar in the afternoon and in the evening left our hotel to explore it. We stayed in the Hotel Highlands Park which was a very majestic hotel. In the evening we strolled over the green meadows and even saw the Shivmandir where the famous Rajesh Khanna -Mumtaz song “Jai jai Shivahankar…” was picturised. The rest of the day was spent roaming around the main market area of Gulmarg and for the first time, nothing got added to the shopping cart.
The next day was the highlight of the Kashmir visit. We had decided to travel by the 2 stage gondola to the top of the mountain. It is the highest and longest cable car project in Asia and we were very excited since we were doing something like this for the very first time. The first stage takes you to a height of @2600 mtrs to the Kongdoori station and the 2nd stage takes you to the top of the Kongdoori mountain @3700 mtrs. We made our way through the maze of various horses and reached an area where a sea of humanity had converged. We came to know that you had to form, what else, but a queue! So we stood in a queue on the heaven on earth and after what seemed like eternity, someone informed the the weather conditions on the top of the mountain were not conducive for gondola travel. But you don’t go to Kashmir every month, so we decided to stay back in the queue to see whether there will any improvement in the weather. And our patience bore fruit within half an hour and we were lucky to get the gondola tickets within another 15 minutes. With smiles on everyone’s faces and with great excitement we proceeded towards the gondola starting point. The children especially, were most animated and the adults, childlike. Finally the 10 of us got into 2 gondolas and we were on the way. It takes just 10 minutes to reach the top of the first stage but what a journey it is. The land below the gondola is sharply rising and the landscape changes from the normal hilly terrain lined with trees, rocks and a few villages, and then for some distance there is no tree to be seen and the land is barren, and suddenly you start seeing scattered snow below you. At a distance, you can see the entire Kashmir valley which hides behind a haze as you go higher and higher. We reached the Kongdoori station and were very impatient to get into the second level of gondola but so were many others. Here too, an announcement was made that the climate is not so good on the top of the mountain. So we posted 2 tired team mates near the gondola station whereas the rest of the gang headed into the distance where one could make out a few run down shops offering tea and sundry hot snacks. A few of us had hot Kashmiri tea, known as Kahwa. Cloves, cinnamon and ginger mixed with Kashmiri green tea and flavoured with cardamom, which gives a unique taste and helps maintain the fluid levels – its a sure fire hit! The children were playing in the snow nearby, when suddenly shouts went out that the gondola has restarted. So off we rushed back to the station and mounted into 2 gondolas. This journey was slightly more lengthy and took about 15 minutes. Within 5 minutes of entering the gondola, a white sheets of snow spread out beneath us and reached on the top, all the time marvelling at the pure whiteness.
Finally we were on the top and we rushed outside. Immediately you feel a little light headed due to the combination of great height, scarcity of oxygen and the unlimited expanse of the white snow spread out before you. On coming out of the gondola, first thing we did, was to rest for some time. After we had gathered our breath, we ventured further from the station, to see mountains and further mountains of white snow. At a very far distance, we could see some tents and were told that these were army tents. This made us realise that we were very near the borders and we marvelled and admired the great resilience and courage of our army. We had barely spent playing in the snow for about half an hour and already we were being rushed back to the gondola to start our journey back to Gulmarg!
Thus was spent a very rewarding and satisfying journey of @10 days in the heaven on earth, rejuvenating all of us to face the daily grind of the city life once again.
Yatin

Udaipur, Rajasthan

 

Udaipur palace
We went through narrow lanes lined on both sides by numerous shops selling marble sculptures, leather bags, etc. and arrived at the main gate of the City palace. We got down and were directed to the ticket booking office. The charges are quite high at Rs. 250/- per person and Rs. 250/- if you want a guide. Audio guide was also available but we preferred to go with a guide. But at the end of the palace tour we realized that the expense was well worth it.
After buying the tickets and along with the guide, one Mr. Rathore, we then approached the main huge gates of the palace complex. From the narrow lanes outside to the wide and open expanse inside, it was a total surprise for us. On one side is the majestic palace whereas on the opposite side, is a beautiful manicured lawn. We could also see the lake Pichola beyond the lawn. Few more shops selling antiques, marble sculptures, etc. were inside too and our guide informed us that previously during the period of the Maharanas, these used to be horse stables which have now been converted into shops. We then entered the main palace through a beautiful arched gate. This entire area, where we were now entering, was where the Maharanas used to stay along with their families but the current Maharana Arvind Singhji has now thrown open and converted this part into a Museum where the common folk like us can get a glimpse of the Royal life.
Immediately on entering, we were shown the total genealogy of the Suryavanshi Sisodia dynasty from the very first Maharana Hamir Singh right down to the current Maharana. The most well known Maharanas were Hamir Singh, Rana Kumbha, Rana Uday Singh and of course, the greatest of them all, Maharana Pratap. The Bhosale clan from Maharashtra, to which Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj belonged to, claims its descent from a branch of this very Sisodia dynasty.
On going further inside, we saw the heavy armour worn by Maharana Pratap during battles as also the statue of the loyal horse, Chetak. One intriguing thing was that the statue of Chetak was having a trunk like an elephant which was fitted on its nose. We were most surprised by this, but our guide explained that this was a very ingenious idea. During those times, the elephant carrying Emperor Akbar’s army general, Raja Man Singh, was trained to fight with a sword held in its trunk. It used to thrust the sword, everytime an enemy soldier or horse came in front of it. A horse with a trunk confused it and it stopped thrusting its sword. This allowed Rana Pratap precious moments to mount an attack on Man Singh who escaped by ducking inside the palanquin. In the meanwhile, the mahout had again instigated his elephant to start thrusting the sword once again. This time the sword hit the leg of Chetak but in the meanwhile, in trying to kill Man Singh, Rana Pratap had killed the mahout. But the injury to Chetak made him slow on the battle field, but he carried Rana Pratap to safety by jumping over a river in spate, to cross over to the opposite bank and thus save the life of Rana Pratap.
The doorway to go further inside the Palace was deliberately kept very narrow and short in height. This is a safety mechanism so that in times of war, if the enemy is successful in breaching the outer defences and tried to enter inside, then only one enemy soldier at a time can enter. This allowed the defenders inside to take an offensive position , since due to the short height, the enemy had to bow to enter which enabled the defenders to decapitate the entering enemy.
Many other rooms were shown where the royalty used to stay and then we were on the terrace. We were very surprised to see fully grown trees on the terrace. Our guide then satiated our curiosity when he told us that there are no rooms under this terrace and actually the terrace is built in such a way on a hill, which has been made a part of the main palace building, that it is impossible to even imagine that there is a hill beneath.
In the olden times, Belgian glass was very famous and it has been used extensively to decorate the bedrooms. One bedroom is fully made up of mirrors, again Belgian. Dutch and Chinese tiles, which were quite expensive in those days have been used in windows, bathrooms, galleries, etc.
The space where courtesans used to dance is very beautiful and adorned with magnificently decorated peacocks. Must see!
The Maharanas belonged to the Suryavanshi dynasty and it is a tradition that the Maharana will eat after bowing to the Sun. A beautiful gold plated Sun is mounted in the dining room of the Maharana so that he could now bow before him, during the rainy season, when the Sun is not seen for days together.
There were many such interesting things to see and a special mention must be made of the Silver room, where many silver artefacts are displayed.
Finally the palace tour was over and we returned back to our hotel, after a day well spent. Certainly a place not to be missed when you are in Udaipur.
Lake Pichola
You wind your way through narrow lanes as you head towards lake Pichola. It is called so because it is situated behind the city palace and also because of the nearby Picholi village. It is an artificial lake created in the 14th century to meet the demands of a growing city. It boasts of some of the greatest landmarks in Udaipur, the Jag Mandir, the Jag nivas, Mohan mandir. The Jag Nivas has been converted into a heritage hotel and I think it is managed by Taj group of hotels. In the evening all the lake properties shine like jewels. A must visit if you are in Udaipur.
Ranakpur
We started for Ranakpur from Udaipur quite late in the morning, at 10 am. Ranakpur is at a distance of 97 km. from Udaipur and since our hotel was situated on the outskirts of Udaipur, add another 20 km. We were on the Udaipur-Jodhpur highway for quite a distance, then you take a right turn for going to Ranakpur. On the highway, I was admiring the fold mountains that are the Aravalis and wondering at the tectonic plates movements which caused these mountains to rise. The Aravalis are one of the most ancient mountains which rose, when the Indian sub-continental plate crashed into the Eurasian plate, the same process which is still in progress and due to which the Himalayas continue to rise every year. Due to some reason, the Aravalis stopped rising further but since the process was the same, you see similar features which you see in any Himalayan range.
Once you take the right turn towards Ranakpur, the road suddenly narrows and passes through many Rajasthan villages and you can observe the Rajasthani way of village life. And our driver told us that these villages are very rich, their denizens being spread across mainly Mumbai and Surat where they have made their fortune. Since it was raining quite heavily, lot of water had collected on the road but our driver was very tactful in going over all obstacles. There are many small man-made and natural ponds which line the roads, the rains making them swell with water. We could see greenery everywhere and once you start descending the Ghats, you are actually passing through authentic jungle area. The driver told us about his encounters with tigers resting on the road, especially when he travelled in the early morning time.
Once we crossed the Ghats, we were in a valley and within no time, we were in the parking lot outside the main temple of Ranakpur. Nothing had prepared us for the architectural marvel, which is the Temple. It rises to a great height and dwarfs everything else in the Pali district of Rajasthan. And the profusion of white marble everywhere makes it a sight to behold! Leather objects, mobiles are not allowed inside and wearing of shorts is not allowed. There are lockers where you can deposit mobiles, belts and money pouches. If by chance, you have worn shorts then you are given a full pant to be worn over the shorts. I could see most of the foreigners were wearing these temple full pants. In addition to this there is a useful facility of audio guide where you are given a small device with ear phones which tell about the different facets of the temple in a serial order.
Main temple – The temple honours Adinath, the first Tirthankar and founder of Jain religion. Ranakpur village and the temple are named after Rana Kumbha, during whose domain the temple was constructed. You climb up the stairs to enter the temple. Near the entrance, the temple security do their routine checking under a beautiful carving of Jarasandh vadh, which is mounted in the ceiling. After the routine check, you enter the main sanctum Santorum and the architecture and the scale of the temple is sure to stun you, such is the majesty. There are pillars and pillars everywhere totalling to 1444 and all of marble. There are many idols and at least two idols always face each other. The temple is designed with four faces and known as chaumukha. This symbolises the Tirthankaras conquest of the four cardinal directions. The beauty of the temple is beyond compare and you can marvel the domes on the top, which are carved exquisitely, only when you visit and see with your own eyes. The pillars are set in perfectly straight lines and you cannot see any off set. And since only God’s creation is perfect, one pillar is deliberately built leaning slightly. It is said that exquisitely carved 108 torans adorned the entire temple complex out of which only 3 now remain. The four domes show higher and higher degree of carving intricacy which shows the advancing skills of the temple sculpturers as they honed their skills over the entire period of temple building. I could go on, but the beauty and the architecture of this temple cannot be fully described in words. It is a must visit for all budding architects.
Temple history – it is a well known fact, due to availability of ancient copper plates, that the temple construction was started in 1437 AD by one Dharanka Shah who was inspired by dreams of a majestic celestial vehicle, under the patronage of Rana Kumbha, then ruler of Mewar. One Deepaka was the architect, who converted this dream into reality. From the huge scale of this construction you can make out that it commanded extensive patronage of the general public as well as the rulers of that time. However within 200 years of its construction, it was damaged during the idol destruction phase of Aurangzeb and the temple fell into disuse. For the next few centuries, it was fully swamped by the jungle and became a refuge of wild animals, thieves and dacoits. However the temple was resurrected by the Anandji Kalyanji trust managed by lay Jains which has restored this magnificent temple to its past glory.
The entire mankind is indebted that we are lucky to witness the excellence of our ancestors after so many years.
Shreenathji
As you enter the holy city of Nathdwara, situated at about 60 km. from Udaipur, everywhere you go, the beautiful idol of Shreenathji welcomes you, in the form of a beautiful painting or sculpture. As the road gets narrower and winds through the town, you know you have reached near to the temple, the moment you see small shops selling assorted items, including the exquisitely beautiful paintings and sculptures of Shreenathji. Beyond a point the car is not allowed and you have to proceed by walking.
As we reached outside the temple, we were welcomed by a huge crowd of pilgrims and the doors to the temple were closed so we waited outside, merging ourselves into the crowd. Before that we had to deposit our mobiles at a counter where they give a token which can be returned after the Darshan. And leather items like belts and wallets are not supposed to be worn inside so we had removed them in the car itself.
Shreenathji is the God Krishna as a seven year old child. Legend has it that the deity’s hand and face first emerged from the Govardhan hill. Under the spiritual leadership of Madhavendra Puri, the local inhabitants started the worship of Gopala deity. This Gopala deity was later known as Shreenathji. In 1672 AD, when Aurangzeb decreed the destruction of idols and banned idol worship, the devoted people decided to transfer the deity to the south. When the chariot carrying the deity was passing through the Rajasthan village of Sihad, the wheels of the chariot got stuck in the mud and could not be moved further. It was taken as a divine sign that the Lord wanted to stay there and the idol was installed in a temple there. This temple is also known as Shreenathji Ki Haveli and Shreenathji is also known as Thakurji as a mark of respect. The idol of Shreenathji symbolizes Krishna when he lifted the Govardhan hill to protect the denizens of Vraj from the rain and thunder God, Indra. Hence the left hand of the idol is raised whereas the other hand is resting on his waist. Its one of the most beautiful idols of Krishna.
There is a daily ritual of 8 darshans, when the devotees can take Darshan of Thakurji and we had reached at @11.30 am. We had reached at the time of Rajbhog, when the Lord is at his most regal and fresh garlands and lotuses are offered to the Lord. By the time the doors were opened, the throng of devotees had increased manifold and fearing a stampede inside, I decided to wait till the crowd had dissipated to manageable levels and was one of the last devotees to enter the sanctum Santorum. The priests managing the crowds were very impatient asking all to proceed faster and faster.
But once I was in the presence of the Lord, I forgot all the little hassles. The image of the Lord is capable of giving inner peace, though the Darshan was for a very short while. The beautiful idol is carved from a monolithic black marble and is adorned with exquisite jewels, some of which date back from pre-Mughal era. Intricately woven silk clothes with beautiful zari and embroidery work , are worn by the Lord.
Once we were outside after the Darshan, we took almost 45 minutes to retrieve back our mobiles and shoes since now the queue was for these worldly possessions!!
A pilgrimage to Nathdwara for the Darshan of Shreenathji is recommended to all Hindus, at least once in a lifetime.
EKlingji
We reached the temple at 4.30 pm.The temple gates were closed. On enquiry with the local shopkeepers, we were informed that the gates will open at 5.00 pm. So we waited there, enjoying the gentle rains. From outside, the temple appeared like any other ancient temple and we were expecting an old dilapidated but regal temple. At exactly 5.00 pm.the temple gates opened and we stood in a line for going in. We were still not fully inside and again there was a waiting of 15-20 minutes. This gave me opportunity to marvel at the architecture and beautiful carvings on the only temple I could see. But the real fun started as we advanced in the line. As we reached near the entrance of the temple, the entire visage of numerous temples in the complex was before us. We were not expecting it and it was as if all the Gods had given us a Darshan. There were so many temples, we lost count. And all were authentic ancient. From outside, you cannot get any idea of the grandeur and beauty inside. The main temple of Eklingji is itself quite an architectural marvel and the main idol of Lord Eklingji, very majestic. Once you have said your prayers and outside this temple, you should take the opportunity to explore the other temples in the huge complex. We were quite impressed with the artistic taste and grand vision of the Great Maharanas of Mewar. After all, Eklingji is considered the Ruler and the Maharanas are the Dewans of The Celestial Godly Ruler. A must visit for Indians and all World dwellers to fully understand the grandeur of an Era gone by.
Bharatiya lok kala mandal
Good place to visit if you are interested in cultural shows. The puppet show is very good but the bhavai dance is the best. Here the bhavai dance was performed by a male and he was very proficient. It is essentially a dance where layers of colourful pots are put, one on top of the other, and balanced on the top of the head and the dancer dances with them. And the degree of difficulty. First the dancer dances on the stage floor then he dances balancing on top of a chopper plate and after that he dances on glass pieces. Mesmerising performance! Go for it!
Yatindra Tawde

Dapoli – The jewel of Konkan

My first visit to Dapoli was about 6 years after my marriage. It so happens that my wife’s native place is near Dapoli, due to which our visits started.

Dapoli is in Ratnagiri district which lies in Kokan area of Maharashtra. As most of you are aware, the Kokan is one of the most picturesque places in Maharashtra, blessed as it is, with miles of beaches, greenery of the top order, and an undulating landscape.

Dapoli is known as the Mahabaleshwar of the Kokan, since it is blessed with a mild climate and situated at a height. It was very popular with the British, who had their army camp here.

Let’s go on a tour of Dapoli and the surrounding towns and places of interest. Join me!

Let’s go in the same order as I visited them. The first town is the beach facing, Murud. Please note that this Murud is different from Murud-Janjira. We had stayed in one of the beach facing resorts where the waves almost lap at your legs. If you want to spend your holidays lazing at the beach, hanging on a hammock tied between two coconut trees, this is the place you want to be in. If this is not heaven, I don’t know what is.

For the adventurous, the nearby beach of Karde village is the answer. There is a huge choice of the best water sports ranging from the common, speed boat pulled parachutes (parasailing), where you will be flying and feeling the sea wind against your face, to the sea-sofa. This is an unique experience, where, literally a air-filled sofa is attached to a speedboat, and you are supposed to catch hold of a few straps attached to the sofa and hold on, as the speedboat drags the sofa, with you hanging on for dear life. Believe me, it’s a thrilling and adrenaline pumping experience. And safe too, since you don’t enter the sea waters without a life jacket. And all the other water sports are available too.

For those, not inclined to enter the water themselves, but would rather enjoy other species doing it, you can always go dolphin watching, early in the morning. This will certainly act as great stress buster.

For the foodie minded, are sure to enjoy the wide variety of fish platters on offer. And these fish dishes can be had, fried or with curry, sitting on the beach, enjoying the hot afternoon sun.

For those with devotional mindset, Murud has a beautiful medieval temple dedicated to Durga Devi. Nearby, is a memorial to the great social reformer, Maharshi Dhondo Keshav Karve.

Murud is also known as Murud-Harnai. Harnai, a neighbouring village known for the fish auction taking place at Harnai bunder and also for the sea fort, Suvarnadurg, situated a mile away from the mainland. Nearby, is the village of Anjarle and the Anjarle beach.

But Anjarle is more famous for the Ganpati mandir, situated on a hilltop overlooking the beach, hence also known as ‘kadyavarcha Ganpati’. The Mandir is, of course beautiful and peaceful, and when you drive from Dapoli to the Mandir, you pass through winding roads, and climb small hills overlooking magnificent vistas of the Arabian Sea. The panoramic view of the beaches and sea, seen from the vantage point of the hill, will stay with you forever.

Asud is one village, which should not be missed, when you are anywhere near Dapoli, and with good reason too. Situated at a distance of just 8 km. from Dapoli, on the road to Murud, it is famous for the ancient temples of Keshavraj and Shree Vyagreshwar. Once you park your car on the road side, and enter the village, you are transported to a different world, where work related or any other stress, just evaporates, as you start walking down the hill, on a winding path, covered by a canopy of coconut, betel and jackfruit trees, planted so densely together, that the rays of the Sun, cannot penetrate, even during the main summer months.

The coolness of the place is enhanced by softly running streams of water, which have been channeled through rocks, an ingenious piece of aquatic engineering. Once you reach the bottom of the hill, you cross the main stream and then again start climbing the ancient steps, ushering you to the temple built on top of another hill. Once you reach the top, the ancient temple embraces you into its structure and provides you with cool water trickling down the Gomukh, for your parched throat. The silence of the serene surroundings is broken only by the chirping of the birds. Shree Vyaghreshwar mandir is situated on the riverbank and houses the Swayambhu Shivling. Asud village is certainly a must-visit.

Jump on a vehicle on the way to Dabhol, and reach the Chandikadevi Mandir, just before you enter the town of Dabhol. This temple, dedicated to goddess Chandika, is underground inside a natural cave. You are not supposed to carry any light inside, and the only an oil lamp allows you to take darshan.

It’s a real experience when you enter the temple for the very first time. Once you enter, the darkness envelopes you, as you feel your way inside. You proceed like this for sometime , and then the dim oil lamp near the main idol guides you, suddenly you are in her presence. This temple is known to be very ancient.

Finally Dapoli!

Dapoli has one of the biggest Krishi Vidyapeeth or Agricultural University in India. There are many nurseries too, Amrute Nursery and Koparkar nursery, to name a few. Blessed with a good climate and fertile land, the nurseries of Dapoli offer a wide variety of flowering and decorative plants. The Amrute nursery also has staying arrangements, though not on a large scale. Don’t miss having lunch or dinner at Amrute nursery, whether veg or non-veg. I had the tastiest foods here and you should too, though advance intimation needs to be given.

The ST stand is just on the exit road going out of Dapoli and is flanked by a huge ground. The roads are tree lined and offer shaded roads. There is a lots on offer in Dapoli and the surrounding villages. So friends, Chalo Dapoli!

Yatindra Tawde