Saturday, March 30, 2013

Visiting Chennai & Mahabalipuram

Visiting Chennai & Mahabalipuram

The Nandi's at Shore Temple in Mahabalipuram
I had visited the destination in 2007, but had just put in a cryptic little blog for Sulekha, as they were the starting days for me of posting blogs. However, I have not shifted the blog to this site and accordingly, have penned a fresh travel blog. The occasion was the annual convocation being organized by the office was working for at that particular point of time and we had to visit the destination to tie up the ends and finally had to open a camp office in Chennai for a week at the time of the Convocation in February, 2007. After conclusion of the Convocation and having wound up the work, I availed a days leave to explore Mahabalipuram also. 
Ripe Palm fruits
Chennai is an unusually hot place and even in month of February, we were able to get ripe Palm fruits being sold by the road side when we went visiting Mahabalipuram. Madras was one of the first outposts of British East India Company founded in 1639, when the British East India Company (represented by Francis Day and Andrew Cogan and aided by a local translator Beri Thimappa) was granted land to build a trading settlement by the local Telugu ruler (Nayak) of the suburb of Vandavasi, Damerla Venkatapathy Naidu on his father's name Damerla Chennappa Naidu. The document of the land grant is dated 22 August 1639, and hence Madras celebrates its birthday on 22 August each year as Madras day. Madras is derived from Madraspatnam, a name given to the area when the British negotiated settling there with Damerla Venkatapathy Nayakudu. The British built Fort St. George (today the legislative and administrative seat of the state). Fort St George was completed on St George's day in 1640 (23 April) and hence was named after the patron saint. George Town then developed becoming the modern city of Madras, absorbing several nearby boroughs. Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, is associated with Chennai. In 1996, the Tamilnadu government renamed Madras to Chennai providing the reason that 'Chennai' was the city's traditional name while Madras was one derived during colonial rule. 
Marina Beach in Chennai
Covelong Beach - on way to Mahabalipuram
Being situated on the coastline of India on the Indian Ocean side, there are quite a few beaches around Chennai, the most famous amongst these beaches are – i) Marina Beach, which is a 12 km long and offers excellent opportunities for walks and has a very wide sandy foreshore. Its width is up to 300 m (985 ft). The Marina of Madras is the second longest urban beach in the world. The South Beach Road runs past the Madras University, the Senate House, the Chepauk Palace; ii) Edward Elliot's beach, is spread along the coast down south from Marina. This beach is comparatively quieter and it is located near Besant Nagar. At the end of this beach are the Velankanni church and the Ashtalakshmi temple; iii) Breezy Beach is located in the quiet neighborhood of Valmiki Nagar (Thiruvanmiyur) in Chennai. It is smaller and less popular than the Elliot's beach; and iv) Covelong as it was known earlier is a small fishing village located 40 km (25 mi) from Chennai on the way to Mahabalipuram. Now it is a luxury beach resort. There was a fort built by the Nawab of Carnatic, Saadat Ali. It was here that the French General Labourdonnais landed his troops in 1746. Later it was taken by Robert Clive in 1752 and destroyed. The Beach is separated from the mainland by the canal running from Chennai to Mahabalipuram. I had the opportunity to visit the first named and last named beaches due to paucity of time. 
The panoramic view of Ratha temples in Mahabalipuram
Mahabalipuram is situated 60 Kms. south of Chennai and easily accessible by road throughout the year. Chennai in turn is accessible both by Air & Rail/Road from across India. The best advised visit window is between December to February, as one has to trek a vast stretchs on foot to explore the entire Temple complex. Mahabalipuram is a 7th century port city named after Pallava king Mamalla. It was built between the 7th & 9th Centrury AD and comprise of various temple complexes built in Dravidian style of architecture and reflect distictive influence of Buddhist elements of rock cut sculptures & design - It has been declared as a UNESCO Heritage site. The temples comprise of three main categories - Cave Temple, Rathas (sculpted out of monolithic natural stone formations) and sculpted relief’s on rock faces. 
The Mandapams in Mahabalipuram
The ancient Mamallapuram, as Mahabalipuram was formerly known, was flourishing port town of the Pallava rulers of south India who chiseled in stone a fabulous "open-air museum" of sculpture under the vault of a burning sky. Most of the temples and rock carvings of this place were built during the reigns of Narsinha Varman I (AD 630-668) and Narsinha Varman II (AD 700-728). Though the initial kings of Pallava dynasty were followers of Jainism, the conversion of Mahendra Varman (AD 600-630) to Shaivism led most of the monuments to be related with Shiva or Vishnu. 

Places of Interest  -

The Five Rathas - The five Rathas were fashioned like the wooden chariots drawn during those times and include the Dharmaraja, the Bhima, the Arjuna, the Draupadi and the Sahadeva. The Five Rathas, about 200 m south of the main hill, were fashioned out of a smaller hill sloping down from the south. From the largest part was made the biggest of the five rathas, the Dharmaraja. Then followed onwards north, in the descending order of height, the Bhima, the Arjuna and the Draupadi. A little to the west of Draupadi there was a comparatively large rock and out of it the Sahadeva Ratha was made. Immediately in front of the Draupadi again two smaller rocks were sculptured into an elephant and a lion. Behind the Draupadi and the Arjuna, which stand on a common base, there is a Nandi.
The pinnacle of Dharmaraja Rath in Mahabalipuram
The Draupadi Rath in Mahabalipuram
Closeup of the elephant behind Draupadi Rath
Nandi Rath behind Arjuna Rath in Mahabalipuram
The Bhima Rath in Mahabalipuram
Mandapas - The main hill at Mamallapuram is dotted with pillared halls carved into the rock face. These mandapas, with their graceful columns and intricate figure sculptures bear witness to the artistry of the Pallavan rock cutter. The ten pavilions at Mamallapuram, of which two are unfinished, were designed as shrine, with a sanctum and on outer hall. The shallow porticoes are adorned with exquisite sculptures of gods, goddesses and mythological figures. The Ganesh mandapa is an active shrine even today, with the idol of the elephant-god being revered by the faithful, fourteen centuries after it was first consecrated. Beyond the circular rock called Krishna's Butterball is the Varaha mandapa dedicated to the two avatars of Vishnu as Varaha the boar and Vamana the dwarf. The pillars of this pavilion are perhaps the earliest to display a motif that became the signature of southern architecture-the lion pilaster, where a heraldic lion support ornamental pillar. The Mahishasura mardini mandapa has the goddess Durga in bas relief, slaying a buffalo-headed demon, and the Vishnu Sayana Mandapa shows Lord Vishnu lying under the protective hood of the seven-headed serpent Adishesha. Of the other mandapas, the Panch Pandava mandapa, that is unfinished, has a more elaborate facade. Its pillars are adorned with rearing lions springing from the capital, and the shrine is the only one surrounded by a passage which allows passage around it's circumference.
Mahisasur Mardini relief in Mahabalipuram

The reclining Vishnu relief in Mahabalipuram
Arjuna's Penance - This skillfully carved rock is the largest bas - relief sculpture in the world. It gets its name from the figure of an ascetic who is believed to be Arjuna, the hero of Mahabharata, doing penance to obtain a boon from Lord Siva. However, there are others who think that the figure is actually Bhagiratha who entreated Siva to let the river Ganges flow over the earth.
The Arjuna's penance in Mahabalipuram
Arjuna's penance - flow of Ganga relief in Mahabalipuram
Shore Temple - Facing the sea and designed to catch the first rays of the rising golden sun, the Shore temple is perched on top of a rocky outcrop. This shrine is dedicated to both Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu. The temple has interconnected cisterns through which the sea can be let in to transform the temple into a water shrine. But, in recent times, a stone wall as been added to protect the shrine from the rising seas and further erosion. 
Panoramic view of the Shore temple in Mahabalipuram
Here is a video for the destination - 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Ranikhet, ‘The Meadow of the Queen’ revisited

Ranikhet, ‘The Meadow of the Queen’ revisited

View of Nanda Devi range from Ranikhet

A nature lover's paradise, Ranikhet offers wonderful views of the Western Himalayan ranges.  Ranikhet also presents a stunning view of the reverend Nanda Devi. The scented mountain breeze, fresh and pure, the singing birds, the panoramic view of Himalayas accompanied with the sight, sound and smell, leaves the onlooker spell bound & mesmerized.  Ranikhet is situated in the northern part of the state of Uttaranchal, in the northern region of India. It is situated in the Kumaon hills and is located at an altitude of 1829 m above sea level.  Ranikhet is about 59 kms. from Nainital and about 50 kms. from Almora.  Ranikhet hills offer the tourists a panoramic view of the mighty Himalayan peaks.  The environs of Ranikhet are sylvan, peaceful and attractive. Ranikhet is a cantonment town and is known for its ancient temples. An unusual name, a quaint legend and the sheer beauty of its environs make this Kumaon hill station a wonderful holiday resort.   According to the popular belief this place had won the heart of Rani Padmini, queen of Raja Sudhardev. She chose this scenic place to be her adobe and since then it has come to be known as Ranikhet, whose literal translation means ‘Queens Field/Meadows’.

View of the Ranikhet township

View of Chilyanaula from Ranikhet

Ranikhet, is known for its pristine beauty. The hill station has been a tourist’s haunt for those who want to spend a vacation in lap of nature, far from the maddening crowd of cities. The British troops selected it as their cantonment in 1869 and it also became a summer resort of the British officers.  The cantonment is spread across two ridges, the first, called the Ranikhet ridge, is situated at an elevation of 5,983 ft (1,824 m) and the second, the Chaubattia ridge, is at an elevation of 6,942 ft (2,116 m).  On the opposite spur of this ridge is situated that township of Chilyanaula.  There are a number of tourist attractions in Ranikhet that tourists can visit, both in Ranikhet and outside.

Close up of Nanda Devi from Ranikhet

View of Trishul from Ranikhet

 Some of the major tourist spots within the township are as -
Chaubatia Gardens: It is situated 10kms. from Ranikhet, within the precincts of the military establishments and entry is restricted and one has to make appropriate entry before visiting the spot.  It is renowned for apple orchards. Apart from fruit orchard, one can also walk through a quaint forest trail, assisted by a guide for Rs.100/- and in case both garden and forest trail the rates are Rs.200/- for the guides.   One can also buy fresh juices and honey from Chaubatia Gardens. Picturesque views of the snow capped peaks of the mighty Himalayan range can be seen from Chaubatia Gardens.

View of Himalayan peaks from Chaubatia gardens

Extreme close up of Nanda Devi ranges from Chaubatia gardens

View of Hathi Ghoda peaks from Chaubatia gardens

View of the Panchachuli peaks from Chaubatia gardens

 Jhula (Jhoola) Devi temple

Front facade of Jhoola Devi temple

Jhula Devi temple is an ancient 8th century temple located in a secluded and serene environment near Ranikhet. The main deity of this temple is Goddess Durga and it is believed that Jhula Devi blesses the devotees for fulfilling their wishes. As per the local folklore, the people of the valley were threatened by the tigers & leopards of the region and on consecration of this temple, they & their livestock were spared from the menace.  The spectacular feature of this temple is the majestic cluster of beautifully made bells. The clangs of these bells are heard very long distance. The temple surroundings are beautiful and panoramic view of the distant mountains and peaks is enchanting scenery from here. Many devotees throng to this temple to offer their prayers. A temple dedicated to Lord Ram located nearby is an added attraction.

The presiding deity of Jhula Devi temple

 9-hole golf course is one of the prime attractions of Ranikhet. It is second largest golf course in India. The green meadow of the golf course at such high altitude is simply awesome. Besides, the golf club also offers membership plans for outsiders as well, despite being a military run establishment.

Panoramic view of the golf course in Ranikhet

Bhulla tal is a man made dam about 3 Kms. downhill trek from Chaubatia/Jhoola Devi temple site, but I did not visit it as I was not much impressed with the small lake of same name in Lansdowne.  This lake is man-made and source of water supply to the cantonment.  On way to Majhkhali is the Kali temple stated to be about 5000 years old, but the same being on a hill top, as we were totally drained out after visiting Dunagiri temple and having mounted 400 stairs, we had skipped this destination too.  The sunrise/sunset points either in the Sadar Market area or just below the Kumaon Regimental Centre roads are also worth a visit because of the unparalleled view of the Himalayan ranges. There are other military museums in the township, but I was not much interested in the same and thus, skipped visiting them.

Destinations around Ranikhet


View of the Himalayan ranges from Majhkhali

is an enchanting destination for its imposing natural beauty and  is located on the Ranikhet - Almora road.  This destination is known for its awesome and tempting celestial view of the Himalayan ranges. The great view of inspiring majestic Sonya peaks of the Himalayan ranges is an unforgettable experience for any visitor. This place is abundantly blessed with the nature’s gifts comprising of a undulating hilly terrains, calm valleys, cool climate and captivating surroundings. It is a quiet place to spend the weekends and evenings.
Tarikhet is located at a distance of 8 Kms. from Ranikhet is well known for its Gandhi Kuti, and the temple of Golu Devta is venerated in the Kumaon region. Gandhiji spent some time here in 1920’s and was enchanted by this place and is now famous for the Gandhi Kuti and the temple of Golu Devta, on the main road itself.
Binsar Mahadev

The facade of Binsar Mahadev temple - Swarg Ashram

A fox suddenly appeared from the Binsar forest reserve

It is located at a distance of 19 Kms. from from Ranikhet, on the way to Ramnagar amidst dense Pine and Deodar forests. The Shiva Temples of Binsar Mahadev are a unique place for Yoga and spiritual meditation in solitude. Located at an altitude of 2480 mtrs, Binsar Mahadev is an important temple of the region. It is also important for its architectural significance as well. The temple consists idols of Ganesh, Har Gauri and Maheshmardini. The idol of Maheshmardini is engraved with texts in 'Nagiri lipi' (an ancient form of scripture), which indicates the link of temple back to ninth century. The temple was built by King Pithu in memory of his father Bindu is also called Bindeshwar temple. An important fair is held here every year on the occasion of Baikunth chaturdashi in the month of June.
Here are the video links for the destinations -
(1) Ranikhet -
(2)Majhkhali -
(3) Binsar Mahadev -