Thursday, September 10, 2009

In The City of Ruins

The ancient capital city of the Hoysala empire was once called 'Dwarasamudra' meaning entrance from the ocean, as its located on the banks of a large lake. Now its name fits it perfectly, Halebeedu - the ruined city. It was attacked by the plundering armies of Malik Kafur in the 14th century and later vandalised and defaced by many. The Archeological Survey of India is now taken over and is trying to put together the lost glory..........and what glory it is!!The main temple complex in Halebeedu is the Hoysaleeshwara Temple. Nearly every inch of this star shaped temple is covered in intricate carvings. All the carvings are done on soap stone - soap stone is soft and can be easily carved on and on exposure to air, it hardens over time. There are 2 shrines in the temple, one for King Vishuvardhan and the other for his beautiful queen Shantala Devi.
Though the construction work on the temple went on for 86 years, it was never completed. The unique feature of the Hoysala temples is that they are all built on raised platforms. And in the case of the Hoysaleeshwara Temple, there are 2 sanctum sanctoriums and 2 Nandi mantapas on the same platform.
The 2 Nandis here are the 6th and 7th biggest in India and possibly the best carved. They are polished to such a perfection that one can easily see their reflections on them.
The Halebid complex has miniature mantaps and gopurams in front of the main temple mantapas. These were supposed to hold smaller idols of gods but now stand empty. All the carvings in the front of the temple depict dancers, musicians and scenes from the Kamasutra and all the ones at the back are of Gods. The carvings all have stories to tell....from Ramayana and Mahabarata to daily rituals and events.
The frieze of the temple has eleven panels of cravings each depicting different things. The bottommost has eleplants, the next lions, the one after is a set of patterns followed by horsemen. After another panel of patterns is the story of Mahabarata carved. Then is the mythical creature Makara, the peacock and after that dancers and musicians. The 10th panel has gods carved on and the final one has scenes from the Kamasutra.

The inside of the temple had 2 halls connected by a well lit corridor. In front of both the idols were mantapas for dance and music performances. Queen Shantala Devi is supposed to have been one of the best dancers of that time.
All the pillars in the hall were once adorned by sculptures of dancers and only few remain. According to our guide, Nagaraj, most of them were broken by invaders and the rest are all in British museums.
The external sculptures at Halebid are some of the finest in India. The detailing and beauty of each of them is amazing!! One of my favorites is one of Lord Shiva inside an elephants body, teraing it is so detailed that even the finger nails of Lord Shiva are shown piercing through the hide of the elephant. The same sculpture is also there in Belur but i liked this one better.
Another favorite is of Makara.....the mythical being with a crocodile head, body of an elephant, paws of a bear and plumes of a peacock. This shot is taken in close up, the actual craving is very can just judge the amount of detail from this!!
The next one is very interesting....its one of Lord Shiva and Parvathi. The carving of course is superb...what i found most fascinating was the way the stone was tilting under Lord Shivas weight.....according to our guide, it was supposed to signify the power of Shiva over Parvathi.
This depicts the trinity in Indian Mythology....the Creator - Brahma, the Preserver - Vishnu and the Destroyer - Shiva.
This carving is of Ravana carrying the Mount is so detailed that scupture had depected different animals on the mountain, there are hunters, mountain climbers, snakes, bears and monkeys and on top of the mount Kailasa is Shiva and Parvathi.

These carvings depict the story of Lord Vishnu as Vamana.
All the different scupltures and carvings in Halebid tell amazing stories of its own. It took our guide more than 2 hours to explain all of it to us!
I've never been to Khajuraho....only have heard about the amazing carvings and sculptures there. But after seeing the temple complex of Halebid, i can only say that if there if anything better than this, it must be truly stunning!!

The Hoysala dynasty were big patrons of art and Queen Shantala Devi herself was a renowned dancer of the time. Both the sanctum sanctoriums have circular platforms in front for dance and musical performances.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

On the road to Kabini

We go on a lot of road journeys. And a lot of times, i come back saying that i am never sitting in the car for that long ever again......but when i look back and think about all the trips we've taken, some of the road journeys have been the best and most memorable.

The key is not drive for too long at any go and to stop and have a closer look at all things interesting you find on the way. But a lot of times, we are so much in a hurry and so excited about our destinations that we forget to enjoy the journey itself.
We recently drove from Bangalore to Kabini and that was one of the best journeys ever!! The scenery was beautiful and we kept stopping to admire everything we saw - from trucks and tractors to the hills and fields.
there were swings outside most of the temples.....a young boy told us that they were for the gods.

after crossing mysore, the villages started and we wanted to stop every 5 mins to take the stunning scenery in!!

With us on the journey was our friend who had come from the US for a vacation and she wanted to take snaps of everything on the way!! Initially we kept pulling her leg everytime she made a request and by the end of it, we realised that everything is amazing if you want to see it that way!!
We took photos of everything from roadsigns to all the cattle and dogs and cats on the road and throughly enjoyed it!! This is what we had stopped doing somewhere along the way.......
Thanks a lot Vandy for giving it back to us :)
the roads were wonderful to drive on and the scenery kept us engaged throughout

the rains had made the whole countryside clean and everything was so green!!

The best part was meeting all the most interesting people. There were ladies working on the fields, carrying water and firewood, kids playing, men making new machans and many different things that so many different people were doing......

little boy with the most amazing smile :). we met him near kabini dam.

we were driving by and saw her on the road....i stopped to take a snap and she ran to us asking for money......felt so bad!! gave her a 20rs note and she was most grateful.
The journey to Kabini has totally revived me!! I think we're going to be doing a lot of road journeys for a while now!!
A beautiful large frangipani tree near a temple....
wonder how it looks when it flowers....

milestones on the way.......

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The ugly, the bad and the good :)

Been a while since i blogged.....for 2 weeks, all i thought about was what to put up in my next blog!! But i'm back!! I actually missed blogging!! This is about what happened in between which made me stop for a while.

The Ugly.
We're not in the Great Driving challenge anymore. And trust me it took me a while to say that so unemotionally. The first few hours after our names were not in the minesweep, it didnt register well enough. And i was fine for a while.....changed my facebook status, told friends and family that we didnt make it and that it was ok, thanked everyone and sat in front of the comp again like nothing had happened.
And then it dawned!! WE WERE NOT IN THE TOP 12!!
All i wanted to do was sleep then!! it was 4 or so in the afternoon and i slept. Slept for over 4 hours and then got back to the comp to check if something was wrong and we had missed our names......we hadnt.

The Bad.
The next day was fine. I accepted that we had not made in and that everyone who had were pretty good. There was no bitterness.....nothing. The bad part was telling everyone!! All our friends had been as excited about this as we were and they were all dissappointed. My mom had totally expected us to make it and she felt really bad.

We both had been on our computers, campaining and chatting and blogging and checking the progress of everything from 7 in the morning to 12 at night for a whole 10 days and we suddenly felt lost!! didnt know what to do!! The withdrawal symptoms lasted a few more days before things got back to normal. Even now, i keep going to the Great Driving Challenege site and checking blogs and following the contestants but i miss it. I really do.

The Good.

The reason this blog is not called the good, the bad, the ugly but the other way round is because thats the way it is in this case. We were really dissappointed, then we accepted it and finally were so glad we took part as there are way more precious 'goods' than the bad or the ugly!! :)

We've got in touch with so many friends!! Sai talked to his school mates after 17 years!! I never realised that i had not talked to so many of my friends in ages. So many things had changed and now i'm proud to say that i am up to date on most of them!! :)

We made so many new friends. One of the most diffcult things to do after you're finished with school and college is to make lastings friendships. But this experience taught us that its not true. We can still make friends if we try, it only a question of time and patience. And i am so so glad because we met so many new like minded people, so many kindred souls!! Its been an amazing journey.

We got closer to so many friends. We got so much support and following from people we probably didnt expect it from and that was so so heart warming!! I only wish i could be half as nice as them and do this selflessly when someone needs me. After this, i know i will :)

And we've changed......all for the good!! We've started blogging, wanting more than ever to take better pictures, travelling with more passion now, looking at everything in a new light!!
Another positive is that we are not giving up despite not making it. We're definetly taking part in the next Driving Challenge!! The minute i knew they were thinking of having a season 2, i was elated!! And Sai was just as eager to take part again......and next time, we'll be better prepared!!

To sum it all up, its been one of the bestest things we've done as a couple and i've enjoyed it to the hilt.....every bit of it - the ugly, the bad and the good!!
Thanks TDGC :)


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Land of a Thousand Waterfalls -1

'You guys have to experience the Pooja celebrations in Bengal!!’
Our friends Dipan and Piyu had been telling us this for sometime now and last October, we decided that we should.

We’d gone to Leh in September and had taken the less trodden route back to Delhi…..via Kargil – Srinagar. From Delhi, we flew into Siliguri the same day that our friends were to come from Bangalore. After all the high altitude and mountains and out of this world experiences we had had, Siliguri seemed like a whole new world!!

Since we all were going to be in Siliguri for almost 2 whole weeks, our friends had planned little trips for us. We went to Darjeeling and Jorpokhri and had amazing times!! But the trip that took our breath away again was the one to Sikkim.

Three of us Sai, Dipan and me started early in the morning (ok….not that early…at around 6) for our long trip to Lachen. The route was stunning in the morning mist!! All of us were wide awake with Dipan giving us a running commentary about the area, the localites and anecdotes of all the times he’s been here. He had been to Gangtok before but this was his first trip to Gurudongmar and Yumthang.
We followed the mighty Teesta all the way. And she is formidable!! You could see that even in October… was not even the proper monsoons!! We had breakfast at a little dhaba overlooking the Teesta and soon after, entered Sikkim. We were not taking the usual route into Sikkim which would take one via Rangpo but the one via Singtam which would take us to Mangan.

We were told that the government of Sikkim does now allow vehicles from other states to bring tourists into Sikkim and so we had to change vehicles in Mangan. We met our guide and driver for the next 3 days here – Karma and Jung Bahadur. I have to say, if it weren’t for them, our trip wouldn’t have been the same!! Dipan had been dying to stock up on beer and breezers and rum and whisky since we entered Sikkim and at Mangan, he let himself loose!! Fully equipped and well stocked, we made our way to Lachen where we would halt for the night.

We’d reached Mangan a little before noon…..not yet time for lunch so we decided to push on and stop later. The three of us enjoyed our beer and breezers and soon fell fast asleep. We were woken up for lunch is the tiniest little eatery in the middle of nowhere!! It was amazing to me that such a place could actually even exist!! There was nothing around the hut other than the Teesta on one side and a very green precipice on the other with the road in between. But we had the bestest dal and rice there!!

Onward to Lachen……and with altitude, the hillocks become hills, the hills gave way to mountains. And the greenery!! I have no words!! Quaint little villages on the way with most of the village folk either playing or watching football, the chickens and goats running along the road, little kids playing and the green, green fields!! You have to experience it at least once!!

We reached Lachen an hour or so before the sun went down and decided to go for a short walk around the little village to warm ourselves!! After warm, humid Siliguri, chill Lachen was a little shock!! One of the things I had grown to love about the villages in Leh and now in Sikkim was the colourful prayer flags fluttering in the wind……seeing them gives me an immense sense of calm. The colours make me feel free…..

Dipan had just gone to Goa and there he had gone to a new casino where he has apparently mastered blackjack!! And according to him, the dealor never lost. We’d picked up our deck of cards before leaving Siliguri itself and after a nice walk around Lachen, we got back to our hotel for a filling dinner and then a game of cards with Dipan, of course, as the dealor. He would have regretted that decision for the rest of his life cause as we discovered, the dealor doesn’t always win… fact, he almost never wins!! Sai and me had he ball of our lives!! We kept winning and winning and winning till we all finally decided to head to bed!!

We got ready early in the morning (this time actually early… 5!!) in near freezing temperatures to go for our day trip to Gurudongmar Lake. After a hot cup of tea, we were all awake enough to travel!! The drive to Gurudongmar was well worth waking up at that insane hour (esp cause it was so cold!!). We kept asking Jung Bahadur to stop so that we could take pictures all along the way!!

Sai and me were amazed at how different Sikkim was from Leh!! We had managed to do 2 totally different sides of the mighty Himalayas in the same trip and the contrast to us was outstanding!! Breathtakingly beautiful and barren Leh and awesome, green and stunning Sikkim!! That’s all we could talk about for months later!! J

We stopped for breakfast at Thanggu. The last village on our way to the lake. That trip, all the places that we had food were wonderful and different!! This time, we were in a nice little kitchen huddled around a warm chimney while food was being prepared right next to us!! The little kids of the house were playing with the onion and potato peels while we coaxed them to pose for us while our yummy maggi soup was beginning to make our mouths water!!

From there on, till we reached the army check post, it was a feast for the eyes!! A stream which would eventually become the Teesta was flowing on one side of the road and there were beautiful green mountains with their tips covered in snow!! We passed dozens and dozens of army trucks and herds of sheep and yak. Never realized how nimble footed these animals were till I saw them making their way foraging for food, up and down the mountains!!

Our first real drama began soon after we reached the army check post before Gurudongmar. All visitors require to have permits and ours were supposed to have been taken care of by our tour operators. We assumed it was and went about taking photos left right and center, reading all about the Gurudongmar Lake twice (one part of the lake never freezes…even in the coldest of winters. That is where Guru Nanak had once touched the lake.), having snacks at the little tea stall, buying souvenirs from the army run center but refusing to get our photos clicked by an annoying officer who was officially giving everyone their poloroids whilst standing next to a picture of the lake!! Everyone who had come after us had already moved on…..and the 3 of us had clicked all the photos we could and done everything we could. Karma and Jung Bahadur were by now running to and from the car and looking pale!! We decided to find out what the problem was and when we did, we wanted to throw Karma into the icy waters of the stream running alongside!! He had forgotten to get our permits along and worse, was using an old permit with different names to try and get us through!! The army guys were furious, we were furious, Jung Bahadur was furious and Karma was on the verge of tears!! Worse, apparently some Chinese spies had crossed the border just a few days before and the army was on the lookout for them…..Karmas antics didn’t please them in the least…..neither did his very Chinese looks!! Thankfully, he had only misplaced the documents and found them after turning the car upside down at least 10 times!! He had the most satisfied smile ever when we were finally allowed to go and in the car boasted about how brave he was in the front of the officers!! That was it!! All of us, including the till then quiet Jungie (Dipan had christened him that by then!!), started off on him and for the next 3 days, that’s all he heard from us!!

One good thing out of that incident was that it got us close to both Karma and Jungie. We learned that this was poor Karmas first ever job as a guide and that we knew more about all the places we were going to than him!! Poor fellow was the butt of all our jokes!!

By the time we got to Gurudongmar, Sai (who had gone through quite a few beers by then), was happily high!! He wanted to swim across the lake, wanted to balance on all the stones on the bank and was rolling on the grass along the banks when he was not trying to impersonate Sanjay Dutt for us!! But we should so have listened to him!! We, in our eagerness to show off our soberness, decided to go for a walk all round the lake…..from where we were standing, it didn’t look really long and Karma told us that it was a perfectly good idea. Little did we realize what we were getting into and we dragged Sai along too even though all he wanted to do was sleep there on the grass!!

We walked and walked and walked and finally when we were somewhere halfway did we realize that we couldn’t see the entire circumference of the Lake from where we had started!! And at an altitude of 17100ft with very thin air, our half drunk (and Sais fully drunk) bodies just couldn’t take it!! But having no options, we trudged along……and along for the next one hour till we finally got to the other side. While we were excited about going round the lake, we ran into a herd of deer on our paths (we should have realized something was amiss when we saw then looking at us they way they did!!). One of them was so brave as to come close and investigate as to what we were before expertly running off after the rest of the herd. And at one point, we passed a lot of rocks…..we could very clearly hear the sound of running water but could not see it……finally realized (our brains were extremely slow due to alcohol and the thin air!!) that there was water running under the rocks!! Sai cribbed all the way, Dipan and I made sure that Karma didn’t faint and fall and by the time we got to the end, we found the Indian Army waiting for us!! It seems they make sure that all visitors are away from the lake premises by noon and us going on the long walk didn’t please them at all!! Thankfully, we were in such bad states with humongous headaches that they didn’t dwell on us much…..told us to get into the car and leave as soon as we could and we did!!
We took off for our next stop. Lachung would be where we would stay to go to Yumthang Valley the next day…..after downing Saridons and Dipans hostel snack of crushed 2 min noodles mixed with masala, we tried our best to sleep…..Thank God Jungie had not come for the walk with us!!