Mysore – The City of Mahisasura

For a long time a trip to Coorg had been on our minds. It had finally materialised last December when we took an extended vacation and ticked it off our list. Since we had managed almost a week of leaves our itinerary also had a detour to Ooty, more about that later. If you are travelling to Coorg via Bangalore you would have to go the city of Mysore, a quaint and beautiful place at the doorstep of the Nilgiris, where the remnants of a royal heritage are still alive and kicking. Also did you know that Mysore is an anglicized version of Mahisuru meaning the city of Mahisasura?

Our flight to Bangalore was pretty punctual and we had landed there on time. However then came the most challenging part of the journey which was negotiation with the traffic of this metropolis we fondly call Silicon Valley of India. The phrase frozen in time, I think, can be literally used for your state of consciousness when you are on the roads of Bangalore, a city where you do not measure distance in kilometers but in hours. The tricky part is there is never a definite answer from point A to point B. Hence true to its nature, we spent almost an equivalent time as we took to fly from Delhi in exiting the city and finally get on the Mysore highway. Once you are on the highway it is smooth sailing again albeit due to the upcoming long weekend Mysore bound traffic seemed to have swollen a bit. We stopped at Anand Aidyar Bhavan or A2B as it is called in its millennial avatar for some refreshments. From there it was a drive of around 2 hours to reach Mysore. On the way we could see glimpses of the hills of Ramnagar where once one of most famous fictional village “Ramgarh” was set up and Gabbar had roared “Kitne Aadmi The”.

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I think when it comes to smaller cities in our country the first impression of Mysore was second to none. It was calm, clean, green and very orderly unlike the small towns of North India. Mysore was the capital of the erstwhile princely state of Mysore. The legacy remains and the way it has now intermingled with today’s life is quite unique. The royal Wodeyar family who ruled the state once is still here and still has their hierarchical prestige intact even though their rule has been over for a long time now. We were visiting in Dec’17 and incidentally in the same month the queen had given birth to a son, breaking a 400 years old curse on the family. The entire city was in celebration due to this auspicious occasion in the royal family. Just like its ruling dynasty the royal buildings are still there although in the form of well maintained administrative buildings or markets. So the princely state of Mysore has long gone but its spirit is still pretty much alive.

Mysore was only a stopover so we had only one full day there in our tour. Therefore we skipped a day visit to the Mysore Palace and started with the beautiful Brindavan Gardens which have been developed next to Krishnarajsagar Dam on River Kaveri. The work for laying out this garden started in 1927 and now it is 60 acres of beautiful landscape with colourful flowers, sprawling green lawns and water fountains. No wonder these gardens attract so many people every day. We were there in the morning hours and the crowd was still building up. We would however miss seeing this park beautifully illuminated by lights during the evening and the musical show in which the fountains dance to musical tunes.

Vrindavan Gardens

It was well into the afternoon when we were done with Brindavan Gardens. So our next stop was Hotel Mayura, a quaint KSTDC resort on the banks of Kaveri. I loved the outdoor setting this place offered, fully shaded by tall trees and you could see the river flowing. While our order was getting ready we took the time to take a ride on a Teppa or a Coracle (a circular boat) in the serene green waters of Kaveri which is held sacred by the people in this region.  A few minutes of swirling around in that circle was probably the experience of the day and like us almost every group who had come here was queuing up to get one of their own. In the meantime our food was served and surprisingly we had a lovely Dal Tadka something which you do not associate with this part of the world.

Teppa Ride On Kaveri

Another attraction near Srirangapatna was Ranganthitthu Bird Sanactuary which was also spread around Kaveri. I had been told about how you needed to go on a boat to really experience the sanctuary, apparently there was an island around which the river flows. A small fact that the place was also a habitat of a few crocodiles made me a little eerie but I didn’t have to face my fear as we got a little late in reaching there, thanks to our extended lunch. There was a long queue of vehicles before us which would have left us only a few minutes before the sanctuary closed.

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Having skipped going to the bird sanctuary we decided to go to the Chamundi Hill, atop which sits the Chamundeshwari Temple, so from sanctuary of birds of we were going to a sanctuary of faith. This temple is one of the 51 Shaktipeethas in the country where you worship the Goddess of Shakti. As the legend goes this is one of the places where body parts of Goddess Sati landed after lord Vishnu had cut her dead body into parts using his Sudharshan Chakra. I sometimes wonder that how do we explain our mythology to our kids, a  mix of GOT, Star Wars, LOTR and every other bit of fantasy which the western world can throw at us. Nonetheless the drive up to top where the temple sits is quite significant because of an elevation of more than 3000 ft. This is another common thread which runs in the Hindu religion where most of these revered temples sit atop a hill, if you are in Himalayas there was no choice but why in other places. While we drove up you could see the city of Mysore which had now started lighting up. As expected the temple was very crowded and luckily it had a VIP darshan mechanism, another irony as in a place of faith every one must be equal. But my hypocritical self was absolutely relieved that I could buy some precedence and convenience in meeting with the deity. However such was the sheer number of people we still had to jostle. Somehow in these famous temples it is more about how you can overpower others so that you can have your one second of peace, introspection, request, gratitude, repentance and whatever other things you have in your baggage. And then you are back to your game of man vs man again. Once the natural flow of humanity pushed us out of the holy sanctum we were at peace. After calmly taking a whole round (parikrama) around the sanctum we were back to claim our footwear. In front of us the magnificent golden yellow building of the temple glowed in the twilight sun.

We returned to take a breather after a longish day and be in good moods to witness one of the most mesmerizing sights of any royal palace you can get in this country. On certain days the Mysore Palace is illuminated and thrown open for the masses, which is mostly in awe of this grand building glowing against dark sky. The stars descend to the royal throne of the city of Mysore to the sheer delight of its subjects. Hence our last bit for the day was at the Mysore Palace marveling at this very unique display of royal splendour. While we were there a local band performed in Kannada and sensing from the crowd’s reaction they were doing great.

Palace and its People

So that was it for the one day we had in Mysore.

 

 

 

 

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The Luxury of Park Hyatt Goa

This year we were to travel to Goa for our annual conference, a brilliant proposition on any given day but if you add the further subtext of the same being held in May then the resultant mood changes a little. Not many fancy this abode of beaches and beer at the time when the onslaught of summer across the subcontinent begins. However this “off-season” is probably the time when you can enjoy the luxuries of sprawling resorts which you can find in numbers especially in South Goa and I was delighted when I found that our stay was to be in Park Hyatt near Arossim Beach in South Goa.

A Beautiful Resort

The lobby is where you make the first impression about any hotel, at Park Hyatt a laid back lounge welcomes you giving you a glimpse of the sprawling property spread over 45 acres. Once through with my check-in procedures I chose to walk to my room and was enamored by the beautiful landscaping done everywhere.

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Tall palm trees, expansive lawns and pretty little bridges over the lagoons which I crossed as I walked towards my room were all so enchanting. Suddenly you feel being part of a charming little world disconnected with the humdrum of what goes on outside. Here you can choose between luxurious suites or well decorated rooms, in one of which I was to put up, everything inspired by Portuguese heritage. As I settled in my lagoon facing room, out in the distance I could see the resort’s private beach and waters of the Arabian Sea.

Pleasures of a Private Beach

While the evening of the day we arrived was spent in preparation of the conference the next morning  I did make it a point to go to the private beach for a walk. The rhythmic sound of the waves, orange hued sky and a mild temperature made it a pleasurable experience. There were quite a few on the beach who were enjoying their morning’s health routine in such a beautiful ambiance.

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While the tourists took a stroll the locals fishermen went about their job of preparing  for their day’s catch. This walk had been beautiful, refreshing and soothing so I made it a point to go to beach for the remaining two mornings I had.

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Truly 5 Star Facilities:

Apart from the beauty of the landscape and the privilege of a private beach this resort had facilities worthy of every star assigned to it. Although I could not use it but I loved the beautiful and expansive swimming pool. Likewise the health spa actually had a full building  with a waiting lounge, changing rooms and shower  instead of a few rooms to tick off the list. I loved the breakfast spread we got at their Village Cafe was and the same also is open 24×7 where you could get food all night long.

Martin’s Corner, King’s Beer etc :

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On the free day we had in our itinerary we had rented bikes from place just across the road. Martins Corner was a few kilometers away so we drove there for lunch. Even during a sultry and humid day it was buzzing with people. The menu was an array of Goan delicacies and if you are a sea food lover this place was a paradise. For vegetarians like me there were only a few options which belonged to the local cuisine so I had ordered the Goan Curry with Rice which turned out to be an amazing choice. After our lunch at this legendary restaurant we rode to the Colva beach and had another round of King’s Beer which had become our staple since we had landed in Goa. After a few hours of pur sojourn we were back within the beautiful confines of Park Hyatt.

#NCRLocal – Delhi 6, Moving Yet Still

One of the weekends in April we were back in Chandni Chowk with our cameras, ready to capture some more bits of its busy lanes which throw up many a vivid scenes and characters. As usual there was a sense of this place being in a perpetual motion but while we sipped our tea I saw the irony, everything was moving but yet this place has been still, seemingly stuck in time, getting old with memories of the glorious days in the years gone by.

So I thought of making Moving Yet Still as the theme of my photographs on the day and here are some of them .

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Moving Yet Still 4

Photowalk courtesy Kumarjee School of Photography:

https://www.facebook.com/kumarjeeschoolofphotography/

#NCRLocal – Photowalk in Mehrauli Archaelogical Garden

The famous minaret whose construction was started by Qutab -U- Din Aibak and which was then further augmented by subsequent rulers of Delhi is the historic icon everyone longs to visit in Mehrauli. Thousands flock everyday to the premises which encloses one of the most famous monuments of India, the Qutab Minar everyday.  Just adjacent to this tourist hotspot is the not so popular Mehrauli Archaeological Garden which also has quite a few relics from the times of sultanate and Mughal era. Most of them are however dilapidated now and not in prime condition. Unlike the Qutab complex this garden does not get as crowded and mostly attracts morning walkers and youngsters from nearby areas who use it as a playground. Here are some images  from a photo-walk we took around this park a few days back:

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Getting ready with the gear 

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The sun was up playing hide and seek with this oasis of green in Delhi

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We spent most of the time practicing our shots at Rajon Ki Baoli – A step well made for the masons during its prime now an abandoned structure.

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One of the corridors which runs along the perimeter of the step well

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The symmetry of the arches in the corridor was worth capturing

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This  here is the group being split by the shadows 

Courtesy: Kumarjee School of Photography who took us for this beautiful photo – walk .

Follow them at:

https://www.facebook.com/kumarjeeschoolofphotography/

 

 

#NCRLocal – Cafe Soul Garden, Gurgaon

The per kilometer density of pubs and breweries in Gurgaon (Gurugram) must be the highest in the country. When you add the swanky and state of the art wine shops we have at every corner, also acting as a landmark for someone who is coming to your home, we have the drinking capital of the country. Perhaps this is why it is so hard to find a breakfast place in this city,which opens up early when you are supposed to have one, not many customers at that time of the day perhaps. Therefore, we are always alerted when we come across these elusive breakfast joints and till now have found only a few. There is Di Ghent in Cross Point Mall, Biker’s Cafe on Golf Course is supposedly open for breakfast and now we have the 24×7 outlets of Chaayos. So when my wife showed me some nice looking photos of a place called Cafe Soul Garden in Supermart -II which is open for breakfast, we just had to be there.

We had gone their the first Sunday of this month. The weather was kind to us and a warm sunny morning made it a really good day to be sitting outdoors. The cafe although open was gradually getting out of its slumber but we did not mind beacuse this was a pretty little garden carved out in a city where such places are a rarity.

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It was decorated with small garden accessories all over. The overall theme of white gave it a mediterranean look. Even though there was no Mediterranean Sea to look at we felt relaxed and settled on a table whichlet us have ample sunlight. A simple breakfast menu offered you both continental (mostly having egg/non-veg) and Indian (read Parathas). Our breakafast order had omlette, paneer parathas,pancakes and coffee of our choice.  While we waited we enjoyed a good conversation with the warmth of the sun making us comfortable.

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Our breakfast was pretty fulfilling but when you see a wood fired oven you tend to inquire about the Pizza which can be baked in it. “It would take some time to get it going” ,we were told ,we were in no rush so we went ahead despite the caution and asked for one serving whenever they were ready. They also got a push from the owner who was also there at the time and had noticed us inquiring about the oven. So we got our Pizza quicker than we were promised.

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While we did all this we had spent a good few hours here in this garden which I think is aptly named, soothing our souls and we could have gone on but for the other commitments which come along with the weekend.

Cafe Soul Garden has been a good find. We would be back there and wish them all the best !

 

 

#NCRLocal – Finding NeverEnuf

One of the resolutions of the year 2018 is to be a little less lazy and be a more regular here. There were many more things I could have shared in 2017 but didn’t. There was the road trip to Jaipur during which we finally visited the Nahargarh Fort and enjoyed a beautiful sun set at Padao, a restaurant run by Rajasthan Tourism, with a lovely panoramic view of the entire city.

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View of the jaipur City from Padao at sun set 

Then there was the magnificence of temples of Siem Reap in Cambodia, especially the Angkor Wat, which I am yet to write about, even pictures would be enough such was the majesty of these temples. So with the resolve and hope that this year will be more productive I begin the year 2018.

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The magnificent Angkor Wat

Some of our folks came visiting earlier in January and we took the opportunity to make another attempt at visiting the NeverEnuf Railways Gardens“. A few kilometers further from Manesar this place had eluded us last year when we had went looking for it. The search was a total fiasco as Google Maps drove us in circles for more than an hour. Finally when we reached the destination “as per Google” there was nothing like a railway garden there. So after a frustrating drive we returned, the sight of the beautiful mustard fields was the only gratification we had while we followed a clueless navigator.

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The sea of yellow – Bright and beautiful mustard fields around the Palwal ExpressWay

One year hence we were better prepared. My wife, in the meantime, had noticed that others were still visiting this elusive garden so it had to be there somewhere even though the google maps had failed. So she figured out the process and here it goes. Instead of just planning to drop by you must contact the couple (Adesh and Amita Grover) who own the place and inform them a day prior to your visit. They would confirm if you can go ahead with the plan. They charge Rs 500 per head which can be paid online. Once we had made our payment we received a mail with directions, specifically mentioning not to use Google Map, an advise we absolutely agree with. The directions were simple, we were supposed to take the Panchgoan – Tauru Road which peels off  the Jaipur highway at the same exit which we take for Palwal Express Way, just be careful not to take the expressway. Once we were on the right road we had a clear landmark to help us, Best Western Resort. The map given to us indicated that these gardens were just a few kilometers before the resort, a little off the road. We looked for signages for Neverenuf on the way and finally spotted a small board asking us to a take a right for Neverenuf, on to a narrow road. Only a few metres ahead painted on a wall was one more direction to take another right onto a kuchha road which meandered through the farms and lead us to a place where a guy stood holding a placard of NeverEnuf. This time we had found the garden of miniature trains.

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It was a bright and sunny day, perfect for the visit to this beautiful garden. At the gate we were greeted by our hosts.  Adesh explained the lay out of the garden which he had so carefully nurtured over the last seven years.

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This was an epitome of what you can achieve if you really put your heart into your hobbies. What probably would have started as one miniature model has now become a popular spot which people like to visit for fun filled day with their family.

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Over the years this garden was something the Grovers’s engaged in during the weekend while they ran their ad agency. Now they are going full-time with NeverEnuf chosing this as their walk into the sunset.

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The garden itself was like a child’s fantasy coming true. There were scale models of trains from different times with stations which themselves were modelled on real buildings.

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These trains could be operated with switches provided near the periphery. You could watch these trains cross  different types of bridges which had been modelled, go through the tunnels as they navigated a hilly landscape.

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It was not only about the trains because there were other mechanised toys like remote-controlled boats, cars and even a model of fire brigade which was on a mission. Some of the models were built from scratch while there were some which were developed from modelling kits.

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Once you are through with the world of miniature trains then you could choose to idle in the lawn or play games like badminton, carrom, table tennis or test your batting skill in the net which they have. To fuel yourself for the day you can either carry your own picnic basket or, like we did, buy snacks and beverages which are served there. Tea and coffee were complementary.  We had found a perfect place for a day out in the sun in the winters of Gurgaon.

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Even after NeverEnuf our weekend excursion had continued. Sunday morning was spent in Hauz Khas Village, one of my favourites for a winter morning . We had lunch at Social which had a beautiful setting , its huge windows gave you the view of Hauz- E- Illai ( the lake ) as we enjoyed our food.

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Another day at Hauz Khas !

We also went to Champa Gali, a new upcoming hotspot as we now know, to check out the Blue Tokai Cafe. The coffee was delightful but unfortunately we missed the process of grinding and roasting of coffee beans because they were in the process of shifting their production facility.  But we released that this place was not only about Blue Tokai because hidden in this modest lane, which at first makes you wonder if you are at the right place, are some pretty cute cafe which have compelled us to return for another foray.

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Blue tokai Cafe at Champa Gali !

 

Let there be more weekends like this one !

From the alleys of Vrindavan – II

So finally I have sat down to complete this draft which was supposed to be an account of our second day in Vrindavan. We are about to go full circle around the sun again since we made this trip in January of 2017. The vivid pictures of the narrow lanes of this town immersed in its love for Lord Krishna are still alive and so is its favourite greeting  “Radhe Radhe”.

Radhe Radhe

We had begun relatively early on our second day and the town was still getting out of its slumber. A few shops had already raised their shutter and had started preparing for another day of service to thousands of devotees who would soon be bursting through these narrow lanes. We had another temple run planned for the day, an obvious  itinerary at a place which boasts of a few hundred of them.

Our first stop was the Radha Vallabh temple, a few minutes walk from Jaipuria Bhawan.  It is also one of the 7 main temples here but for some reason it was not as crowded as Banke Bihari Ji’s temple and we found it far more comfortable to enter and move around. The temple is one of main landmark of the Radha Vallabh sect which began with Hith Harivansh Mahaprabhu. Its architecture is indicative of the years for which this old temple has been standing now. The inner sanctum of the temple was silent and calm. There were a few who were going through their prayers while others just sat their with humility in front of their almighty savour. Interestingly  there was no idol of Radha next to Lord Krishna, only a crown signified her presence in spirit. Lord Krishna’s idol was also getting covered by a curtain every minute, to prevent  one’s continuous gaze at the lord for long.

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We had then taken an e-rickshaw to the Radha Raman temple which was on the outskirts of the town. This is another of the 7 main temples of Thakur Ji of Vrindavan. The temple is exquisitely crafted and one of the most revered temples in Vrindavan, especially by the followers of Gaudiya Vaishnavism. It houses the original shaligram deity of Krishna alongside Radharani. We also caught a glimpse of the River Yamuna on the way which is itself held in high regards because of the role it has in the legends of Lord Krishna. We were pretty close to the afternoon hours when the temples of Vrindavan close down for a few hours. Although we did manage to reach there in time but we had to wait because the priests had covered the deities while they prepared for the aarti.

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Once we came out after the Darshan  at the Radha Raman temple it was almost time to wrap up our things in Vrindavan and get back to Delhi. Vrindavan probably is as close as it gets to being in heaven for a devout but even for mere observers like us who were trying to fathom the myriad of stories this is one beautiful place to visit and experience.

Flower Seller