Tuesday, April 28, 2009

My 100th Post !!!!!!!!

I began this blog almost a year and a half ago – to be precise, on the 17th of November, 2007. Over the years, I have traveled quite a lot, and during the last year and a half, have written about my experiences too. It has been a wonderful journey, meeting like minded people and learning about new places too, discovering much about myself too. Thanks, Sandhya, for encouraging me to blog!

As a celebration, here is a post about two places I have visited recently, or rather, to be accurate, a trailer of what is to come soon, within the next week.

….and Two Travelogues Coming Up!!!!

Travel, they say, broadens the mind – be it a short trip just to a place you haven’t been before, or to a place you have visited a number of times. So it has been with me too. Over the last two weeks, I have visited two places – one right in my backyard, so to speak, and the other more than a thousand kilometers away, to a city I have visited often, and where I went to the same places I have been to, many times before. The two trips couldn’t have been more dissimilar, yet, there was much I enjoyed, as well as learnt, on both.

The first trip we took was an overnight family camp organized by BNHS (Bombay Natural History Society). This was held at their conservation Education Centre attached to the Sanjay Gandhi National Park just off the more popular Film City. Of course, we never expected to see any animals, and none surprised us, but we did see a lot of insects and lizards, and learnt a lot about nature as a whole, and the flora and fauna of the area. We also realized what peril the national park was in, and felt rather sad about the whole thing. All in all, I returned rather dispirited after the camp, wondering about the future of the wildlife in the environs of Mumbai.

The second trip was something more personal, a quick visit to Chennai for attending the 60th birthday of my uncle. Shankar was, of course, too busy, so again this trip was only for me and Samhith. We enjoyed ourselves, meeting up with all my uncles and aunts, and many of my cousins. While the function was, of course, the raison d’ĂȘtre of my trip, an unexpected pleasure was a visit to a few temples, most of which I had visited before, when I was a kid, a little older than Samhith is, today. I enjoyed re-visiting them, for I found my memories sketchy, and especially enjoyed taking photographs. While my personal experiences on the trip will probably feature sometime soon in a personal blog, you can soon look forward to reading about the temples I visited right here.

While I write up my experiences about both these trips, take a look at my photographs.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

My top 5 tips to make long journeys more fun for kids

Vacations are here, or rather, almost here. While some schools are on the verge of closing, Samhith’s school has just begun the new term – yes; like the ICSE schools, only, his is IB! So, we have another month to go before we look forward to the holidays.

We have already begun planning our summer trip, even though we are still not too sure if it is actually going to happen! Meanwhile, all around us, all we can hear are about the holidays – where someone is going, what they are going to do there, and of course, how they are getting there…. While most people seem to be flying these days, there are still a few like us who prefer trains. Yesterday, while we were on the topic of vacations, someone asked me how on earth I managed my son in the train, and why I did not fly.

The answer to the latter is easy –

1. Flights are expensive – Yes, they are, even with all the low-cost carriers around!! I would rather spend the money traveling around wherever I am going

2. Flights are boring – all airports look the same – there is nothing personal about an airport. The only interesting things are the planes themselves. The sheer beauty of the flying machines never fails to give me a high!!!

3. It gets over too soon!!!! Yes, the longest part of a flight is getting to the airport and again getting from the other airport to wherever we are going. The flight itself is ridiculously short!

Of course, I didn’t tell her all that……

As to why I prefer trains, the answer is even simpler. With trains, my vacation begins right when I leave home. The journey itself is an adventure, lasting at least 20 hours, passing through various states, small towns and villages, meeting new people along the way, observing the similarities and differences between us and them… the list is endless……..

About managing my son, the answer is not so easy, but I hope it will be useful to other mothers like me……..

So here goes – 5 things I do to keep Samhith engaged while traveling:

1. Books – books are what kept me engaged when I was a child, and they still help with my son. We carry his books to read along the way, but also pick up comics and magazines along the way. He now looks forward to getting his favourite books on the train, and it keeps him occupied for hours!

2. I see/I don’t see – this is one of our most favourite games when we travel. What started as an attempt to make him more observant, has grown into a full-fledged game he plays with everyone – not just our family, but even those he meets on trains and buses!

This is simply a game where both of us look out of the window and look for something out of the ordinary – like a bird or a scarecrow or a fruit on a tree – and call out before the other person does… the one who notices the most things first, wins.

3. Stories – make up stories with what you see out of the window…. For example, if you see a farm, the story has to be about a farmer, and the crops you have seen there. You just can’t imagine the kind of things he has learnt this way. Some of the stories he has come up with are amazing!!! He never does that when we are at home!

4. Shapes – yes, shape identifying is something for very small children, but what stared out as an attempt to teach him shapes has turned out some very interesting results….. We look out at the view outside, and try to define a shape to all that we see…. Sometimes, we draw the shapes on a piece of paper, and the result is an interesting drawing, which also helps him remember the scenery we passed through.

5. Leave him alone – when Samhith was a toddler, I used to be scared to leave him by himself even for a minute, afraid that he would run out or fall down. Now that he is 5, many trials and errors later, both of us have learnt our lessons. He knows what he can and cannot do, and I know enough to leave him alone.

He climbs up and down the berths by himself, playing with the other kids, hangs from the handles, using it like bars, or swinging on it, runs up and down the coach with other kids and enjoys sleeping by himself on the middle berth. The best part about train travel, especially during the holidays, is that there are lots of kids around, and people are most often extremely understanding and helpful. No one minds him getting in their way once in a while, and many a time, I have met people only too happy to talk to him. That way, the journey becomes much more fun, both for us as well as them.

There were times, when Samhith was a baby, when we have had some nightmarish journeys, when he vomited for the entire duration of the journey, once we even alighted at an earlier station because he was getting too sick. Thank God, those days are now gone. He enjoys these journeys as much as we do, looking forward to the breeze in our hair as we zip past fields and mountains, passing a river, and dropping a coin in it for good luck…….

Yesterday, when I was confronted by the question – “Why don’t you fly?” I was rather irritated, but today, I am thankful for the lady for providing me a topic to write a post about. What a pity, the lady doesn’t read blogs. If she did, I would send this to her………..

This post has been posted in response to Darren's challengeto write a list post in the 31 Day Project.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Alibag Tour Part 3 – Temples and more……

No matter which corner of India you go to, you are certain to find temples – there are ancient temples, some of them almost crumbling, yet standing distinguished by their wonderful architectures and sculptures, and then there are the newer temples, beautifully designed and well maintained, thronged by crowds who come to enjoy the ambience as much as they arrive to pay respects to the deity. My choice is clear – I prefer the older ones, even though they may be in ruins, though by no means do I avoid the newer temples. We visit all kinds of temples when we visit a place, and did the same on our Alibag visit.

As soon as our trip was finalised, we made a shortlist of the places we wanted to visit, and right on top, preceded only by the beach, were two temples, both ancient ones we had read about. Once we reached there, we were told about a newer temple worth a visit, and we added that to our list too. This final part of my Alibag travelogues is a description of these 3 temples.

Datta Mandir – Chaul

Chaul is about 15 Kms from Alibag, and the drive takes us through the picturesque villages of Akshi and Nagaon. There are three prominent temples in Chaul – the Rameshwar Mandir, Datta Mandir and the Hingulja Devi Mandir. Of the three, we visited only the second, which we had heard quite a lot about.

The Datta Mandir, one of the oldest temples dedicated to lord Dattatreya, houses the swayambhu padukas of the deity. The temple is situated on a hillock just on the outskirts of the village, and one has to climb about 700 steps to reach the temple. 700 steps seems quite a large number, but the climb takes barely half an hour. Even if you climb slowly, taking rest on the conveniently placed benches all over, it will not take more than 45 minutes. Though the hill is a bit steep at places, it is quite an easy climb. Even my father-in-law, who is 70 years old, managed the climb without much trouble.

We visited the temple in the afternoon, and there weren’t many people around, but the hill is covered with trees (in spite of some deforestation) and neither did we feel the heat, nor did we lack company, for while the trees provided us some shade, the constant chattering of birds provided us company. In fact, there were so many birds we heard, I climbed quite slowly just so that I could identify some of them. What a pity, I could identify only the birds I see everyday at home. If you are interested in bird watching, carry your binoculars. You never know when you might spot something interesting!!!!!!

There are a couple of smaller temples midway, which also provide you with a place to rest, and the main temple is right on top of the hill, providing a magnificent view of the surroundings and the sea, especially a great view of the Revdanda port.

The temple itself is a small one, built around the padukas (footwear) of Lord Dattatreya which appeared on a black stone at this place. Right behind the padukas is a beautiful idol of the lord with his three faces representing the holy trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.

Behind the temple is a small shop selling puja articles as well as some toys and photographs of the deity for the devotees and the children they drag up the hill. But the real pleasure is in the refreshing lemon juice that he gave us. Sitting at the top of the hill, sipping the juice, feeling the wonderful breeze and enjoying the view is something I shall never forget!

The Hingulja Devi Mandir is accessible by a mud road leading down from the Datta Mandir, or by a set of steps from the opposite side of the hill.

Kankeshwar Temple

One of the oldest Shiva temples in Alibag, the Kankeshwar temple is about 12 Kms from Alibag. Here is an interesting geographical fact about Alibag – the road leading from Mandwa to Alibag is the main highway, along which, there are frequent crossroads on both sides. While the roads on the right lead to the beaches, the roads on the left lead to the hills. In effect, the area is bounded by the hills on one side and the Arabian Sea on the other. Maybe that is why this place is so beautiful!

Getting back to the temple, this one is also atop a hill. The height of the hill is about 900ft and there are around 650 steps. However, it takes at least an hour to climb up this hill, unlike the Datta Mandir, which takes just half the time, in spite of having almost the same number of steps! The reason for this is that this seems to be not just one hill, but a small range of hills. The first half (about 300 steps) is the hardest, being the steepest of the lot. After that, most of the time, we walk on a sort of plateau, with a few steps in between, and in some places, we actually go down a little!

Another interesting thing about this temple (or rather, the steps) is that there is a board right at the entrance, followed by others at regular intervals, which state that the walk along the stairs takes us along 5000 ‘steps’ to reach the temple. This confused us for a while, until the explanation dawned on us. By steps, what they mean is – paces! One has to take approximately 5000 steps (as in strides) to reach this temple! The walk is of course, tiring, but again, the scenic beauty of the hill makes it worthwhile. The hill is part of the Kankeshwar forest, and is covered with trees – especially Banyan – which provide ample shade for the pilgrims.

The steps themselves are ancient ones, but made with pilgrim conveniences in mind. Every step is a small one, followed by a stretch at a slight incline, which allows us to relax before we take the next step. We climbed quite slowly, taking our time, photographing the multitudes of birds, resting at regular intervals, and reached the temple in one and a half hours. Shankar and Samhith had much more energy, and reached the top within an hour!!!!

The temple was as much of a surprise as the walk to the temple. While I had expected a medium sized temple with nothing else, the temple was rather big, surrounded by many smaller temples. There were quite a lot of shops too, selling every kind of snacks and beverages. There were also a few houses there, occupied mainly by the priests, but there is also accommodation for pilgrims.

Since we went there early on Sunday morning, there weren’t many people around, and the priest who was busy with his regular duties helped us with the puja and then told us that the temple was quite crowded on Mondays and other special days. He was too busy however, to give us more information about the temple and accommodation.

Right outside the temple is a sweet water tank, known as the pushkarna kund, which is now closed to pilgrims.

There is also another water-tank near the temple, known as the Brahma kund. Right next to this is a temple of Lord Hanuman (Maruthi), which, it seems, is a popular temple with the devotees visiting the temple.

Even on Sunday morning, there were a few people along with us who climbed up the hill. Most of them were regulars, and soon left us behind. In fact, a few returned even as we were still climbing the steps!!! One such gentleman was praying in the sanctum when we arrived, and it was a pleasant surprise to hear the beautiful way he chanted not only the usual slokas, but also the rudram!!!! Can you imagine a better way to begin the morning, sitting in the small sanctum, next to the lingam, the whole place echoing with the sounds of the Vedas?

After a short rest and a cup of tea to refresh us, we were ready for the downward journey. While the journey up was tiring, I had great trouble getting down, my sandals letting me down every now and then, slipping due to the incline. Finally, I took off my footwear, and climbed down as fast as I could. Even then, it took more than an hour!!

On the way down, we saw this beautiful sight of a train weaving its way along the fields, on its way from the RCF factory at Alibag to their factory at Bombay. It made a wonderful scene….

No autos are available at the foothills. One has to cross and tracks, walk to the village on the other side, and then one might find autos at the main road. We weren’t so lucky, and had to wait until our host got his car out and collected us. If you hire an auto to get to the temple, make sure he waits for you, or at least comes back after a couple of hours for you… otherwise, hire a car!!!!!

Vikram Vinayak Mandir

The third and last temple we visited on this trip was the Vikram Vinayak Temple at Salav, about 20 Kms from Alibag. This temple, built by the Birla Group as part of its Vikram Ispat Factory Complex, is like all such other temples, popularly called the ‘Birla Temple’.

The white marble dome of the temple is visible from the Revdanda port while we approach the temple, and the temple itself is built on a small hillock, every inch of which has been beautifully and tastefully laid out and maintained.

The main deity (unlike most other Birla temples) is Ganesha, and the idol is a beautiful one of white marble. There are also other deities, such as Shiva and Parvati, Radha and Krishna, Bhavani and Surya who have their sanctums around the main one.

The lush green grass surrounding the temple was an inviting sight for our tired feet, and we blissfully laid ourselves on it, while Samhith picked up seeds which had fallen from the trees. Every evening, after the sun sets, lights are turned on, and the aarti is performed. As it gets dark, the sight of the translucent marble reflecting the light is a wonderful sight and we waited for it. Once the lights were on, we decided to move, and headed home, tired after all our exertions.

These are not the only temples in the area. Indeed there are many more, but we didn’t have time to visit any more….

Here are a few more temples in the vicinity which we couldn’t see on this trip.

Someshwar Temple : The Someshwar Temple is an ancient Hindu temple built by the Satwahanas. It is in Akshi which is only 3 km away from Alibag. Enroute to the beach there are many shilas. One of the shilas is close to the Someshwar Mandir. This temple is situated near the deepasthambh.

Nagoba Mandir : The Nagoba Mandir is 16 km away from Alibag. It is at a distance of 20 minutes walk from the Sasawane Beach. The main idol is a hooded snake. It is believed that someone was bitten by a snake, and the venom magically disappeared here. The temple is also the house of the Samadhi of a saint who had divine powers.

Gokuleshwar Mandir: 3 Km from Alibag

Before I complete my travelogue, there is one more place in Alibag worth a mention. This is the ancestral home of Nanasaheb Karmarkar, the renowned sculptor, which has now been converted into a museum housing some of his original works.

Karmarkar Shilpalaya

V.P.Karmarkar, popularly and affectionately known as Nanasaheb Karmarkar, was born in Sasawane in 1891. The son of a sculptor of Ganesha idols, his talent was recognized at an early age, and he was sent to study art at the JJ School of Arts. Many of his sculptures and busts have won awards. Since he generally made busts and sculptures in bronze, he first had to make them in clay before their casts could be made, and later the bronze sculptures cast from them. These original clay sculptures are on display at the artist’s ancestral home, close to the Sasawane beach, about 18 Kms from Alibag.

We were sent to the museum by our host, who insisted that it was worth a visit, but I must admit, we were rather skeptical. When we found nobody there, we were even more bored, but once we entered, we were lost in admiration for the man who created these beautiful works with his hands. Take a look at some of them…….

The last two are my favourites... which are yours?????

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Alibag Trip - Part 2 – Beaches and Forts

Alibag is not known as Mini-Goa without reason…… For one thing, it is near enough from Mumbai to be more accessible. Secondly, it is much cheaper (both accommodation as well getting around), which attracts tourists with all budgets. And of course, there are the beaches – so many of them, the entire coastline boasting of some lovely panoramic views of the sun, the sand and the sea.

Alibag Beach:

My first memories of the beach at Alibag are those of dirt and litter – this was when I visited the beach as part of a picnic when I was in my 12th standard. We had visited the Akshi beach (I think!!) and stopped over at Alibag for a visit to the fort. I couldn’t understand why everyone wanted to visit this beach – it was so dirty! Now, things are a bit better, certainly. Of course, there is still litter – we Indians are great at littering – no one bothers to look for a dustbin, but at least, it seems to be cleaned regularly now. Secondly, the food area has been moved outside the beach, and steps have been built so that those not interested in the water can sit in peace. This may have contributed to the litter being restricted to one area, and the general cleanliness elsewhere.

Now that I am through with my pet grouse (littering), I can continue with my travelogue. We went to the Alibag beach in the evening, which was a good thing, because it was low tide, and we could go to the Kulaba Fort. The disadvantage of the low tide was that the water was really far far away…. It was also just the day after the new moon (Amavasya) so, I suppose the tide was even lower than usual, and all we could see was the sand, and patterns left by the water as it had receded. We were reminded of our visit to the Bordi Beach, where we saw a similar sight…..Shankar was determined to go to the water, and walked for almost half an hour before he could get satisfactorily wet. The rest of us decided to stick to the sand, and tried our hand at making sand castles. Even that wasn’t an easy task, as the sand seemed to have been packed tight into the ground – no, that’s not my description, that’s Samhith’s.

We also saw a few birds, mainly sandpipers (at least, I think they are sandpipers), which weren’t the least afraid of us and stayed still long enough for me to take a few photographs.

The best thing about the timing was the sunset, which was absolutely fabulous!!! I have taken scores of photographs of the sunset… and here are my favourite ones…..

Kulaba Fort:

The Kulaba (sometimes called Colaba) Fort is one built by Shivaji in 1652, and is the most easily accessible fort in this area, located 2 Kms into the sea at Alibag. One can walk to the fort during low tide in less than ankle-deep water. During high tide, boats are available, but this is a mode of transport I have never heard of anyone using to get here. Horse- carts are also available for hire.

Instead of walking in the water, we chose to take a horse-cart ride, which Samhith enjoyed. (Left to me, I would have walked…. It is not everywhere that you can walk in water, along the less-polluted area of a beach!!!!)

Though it must have been a grand fort at one time, built to keep an eye on the naval activities of the British, Portuguese and the Siddhis, the fort lies in ruins now, except for the temple in the centre, which is fairly well maintained. It is still possible to walk on some portions of the fort walls, and the view from there is breathtaking!!! I just stood there and wondered what it would have been like in the days of the brave Maratha king’s glory, and what he would think of the activities carried out in his name….. Yes, that is the effect most forts and historical places have on me……….

Also in Alibag, very near the beach are two interesting places.

The Geo Magnetic Observatory - Established in 1904, the Magnetic Observatory is the only one of its kind in Asia and one of only 13 in the entire world, with whom data is exchanged every 12 minutes. The building echoes the British style of architecture and houses rare valuable instruments like a magnetograph, which is built only in stone, with no steel used. The Observatory records magnetic movement in the earth's' crust and also magnetic storms caused by solar storms. A destination of pride for the Indians, the Magnetic Observatory stands apart for being unique.

I was looking forward to visiting the observatory, and coaxed the auto-wallah to take us there (he told us there was nothing to see there, but I can be quite stubborn when I want, and insisted). We reached the place only to find the door locked. The auto-wallah threw me a triumphant glance, but I persisted, and hunted for the watchman, who informed me, quite politely, that the observatory was closed to visitors following the 26/11 terror attacks. I returned, deflated, as well angry. Angry with the idiots who barged into our lives with their guns and lack of respect for human life, and also with the authorities, who, by denying us entrance to such places are falling prey to these terrorists, playing into their hands, succumbing to the terror they created, and adding to the fear.


The Samadhi of Kanhoji Angre – Kanhoji Angre, the great Maratha Admiral hails from this place, and it is here that he was laid to rest. His Samadhi is a structure with 8 faces, and exquisitely sculpted pillars. However, this again I was unable to visit, as it was being renovated. I shudder to think what the renovated structure will look like….

Kihim Beach

Kihim is one of the most popular beaches in Alibag, 9 Kms from the town. As our auto driver repeated at least thrice – most famous (read – film) personalities have their farmhouses on Kihim Beach! We went to the beach early in the morning, ready to face the water, and found only more sand. The tide hadn’t come in yet! Again, Shankar decided that if the water didn’t come to him, he would go to the water, while Samhith and I collected shells. We walked quite a long way along the beach, and collected some wonderful specimens of shells. We even saw these patterns in the sand, which looked like they had been made by starfish or some sea creature.

After a while, thankfully, the tide started coming in, and Samhith went in to join his father in frolicking in the water, while I happily clicked their photos……

Kihim is a really nice beach to go to, both clean and vast. There is lots of place for all the tourists who visit the place, but early in the morning when there was hardly a soul around, was a wonderful feeling.

Two forts are visible from Kihim Beach. These are the Kandheri and Undheri Forts, built right in the middle of the sea by the Siddhis. Both these forts are accessible by boat from Thal village.

Kandheri Fort

The Khanderi Fort is 3-4 km into the sea from Thal beach, and was built in the year 1678. It stands on a small island. A lighthouse was constructed later on. The fort was under the British control for a long time. The various attempts made by the British to capture the island fort of Khanderi were not fruitful till the year 1750, when the Fort was finally handed over to the British as part of the Peshwa territory. Today the Fort is under Bombay Port trust administration.

Undheri Fort

At a distance of 300 meters from Khanderi is the fort of Undheri which is also an island fort. It was built by Siddhi Qasam in 1680. The fort changed hands from the Siddhis, Peshwas, Angres and the British.

I was extremely enthusiastic about visiting these forts, and asked our host about them. He directed us to Navgaon, which is a fishing village. We reached there, only to be told bluntly that they were fishermen, and they did not take tourists to see the fort. In fact, they were so busy unloading the catch of the day; they had no time for us at all. Finally, while we waited in the sun, surrounded by mounds of fish of all kinds, covering our noses to avoid the smell (unsuccessfully, I may add!!!), Shankar walked to the next village, which was Thal, where he managed to find a chap who would take us there in his boat. By this time, it was approaching noon, and the tide was coming in fast. While we waited for the boat, we amused ourselves looking at the sea gulls and egrets which thronged the beach, looking for bits of fish the men had left behind.

The boat finally arrived, and we got in and started towards the beach. Just a few minutes in, however, I started feeling extremely queasy – the boat was rocking just too much!!! It was a narrow and long boat, running on a motor, which turned the motor-end of the boat downwards, and the other end upwards…… while all the others, including Samhith were fine, it was me, who, in the first place was the person to insist on coming, who just couldn’t handle the boat ride. With no resort left, we abandoned the trip, and returned ashore, much to the amusement of the fishermen! I am never going to hear the end of this at home!! The next time I insist on getting anywhere difficult, Shankar is sure to remind me of this incident!!!!

For those who have a sturdy constitution and can handle difficult rides, you can go to Thal village and contact the customs office there, which is right on the shore. Check out if you need permission to visit the forts. Find a fisherman to take you. They charge about Rs.500/- for the whole trip. Make sure that you make all the arrangements and then turn up for the ride. Check about the tides and best time for the ride in advance. I am told that at low tide, the ride is much easier! Also catch hold of some chap from the village who can act as a guide. Very few people visit the fort, and it is usually deserted. Carry water and eatables with you. The journey to the first fort takes about half an hour, and further to the second fort about 15 minutes. The whole trip will easily take at least 2 hours.

There are many more beaches in Alibag, which we did not visit, but just passed through, on our way to other places. Among these are the Akshi Beach, 5 Kms from Alibag, where the sand is lined by rows of rocks, followed by rows and rows of casuarina trees... the Nagaon Beach,7 Kms from Alibag, and Kashid, the beach well known for its silver sands, which is 30 Kms from Alibag.

We also passed by Revdanda, where a boat race was on, the day being Gudi Padwa, the Maharashtrian New Year. The sight of the port on one side, the Vikram Ispat Jetty on the other, with a conveyor belt going all the way from the jetty to the factory, carrying their raw material, was a sight I shall never forget!

Here are some more photographs taken on the beaches ----


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