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Wednesday, 15 February 2012

12. DELHI-DWARKA-DELHI BY CAR: AMBAJI & MOUNT ABU (TRAVELOGUE)

Delhi - 265kms - Jaipur - 130kms - Ajmer - 194kms - Chittor - 120kms - Udaipur - 249kms - Ahmedabad - 231kms - Rajkot - 221kms - Dwarka - 456kms - Ahmedabad - 183kms - Ambaji - 51kms - Mount Abu - 737kms - Delhi 


Days 13-14: AMBAJI & MOUNT ABU

Day 13, and we woke up at Ahmedabad to enjoy a lovely continental breakfast of omelette, sausages, porridge and toast prepared so graciously by our hostess and served with lots of
love and affection.

It was now time for our return journey. Luggage packed, petrol filled, air-pressure in tyres checked and seat belts fastened; we were now ready for the next leg of the journey. As the return journey started, there was a queer feeling of loss in the heart… the feeling of this beautiful experience coming to an end had started surfacing.
This part of the country was better in terms of availability of restaurants and we soon stopped for a cup of tea at a Hotel. But not a single customer was present there. How do they break even, the banker in me wondered. The pakodas were excellent. Not sure whether similar joints would come our way again, we decided to have some cheese sandwiches packed for lunch.


The road was lovely, smooth & clean

Fuelled again, we moved forward with our journey. The road continued  to be excellent and traffic minimal. I was admiring the scenery along the road when hubby suddenly announced, “140!!!”  I was almost shaken out of my slumber, “Whaaaat?”
“Yesss…..We are driving at 140 kms per hour. Did you realise that?”
No, I hadn’t. Our Hyundai i20
 is just too good and I loved my car for this. Of course the road was fantastic!




An excellent thought
Speeding like this, we spotted a neat and clean restaurant and craved for a cup of tea again. Driving on the highway, a good cup of good tea is the best companion for tea-addicts like us. …and aloo ka paratha to boot was exactly what we needed at that time. Again no customers in the restaurant. We were the only ones.  Also noticed a thought written on the wall of the restaurant, “Beimaani ki ameeri se Imaandari ki garibi achchhi”. Hmmm.....so true!


As we started off again, I received a phone call from a friend, “Where have you reached? You must visit Ambaji Temple. The temple per se is like any other temple…. nothing much, but you will love the drive to the place. It will come on your right side…..just about 15-16 kms…. Worth the drive.”  And lo and behold, we spotted the indicator to Ambaji and spontaneously took a turn to the right. The hilly track to Ambaji was almost deserted and the drive was enthralling. Wasn't our friend so right?


AMBAJI:Nestled in the Aravali hills, Ambaji temple where Goddess Amba is worshipped, is one of the important Shakti Peeths of Hindus. As soon as we drove in, a tout pretending as a guide/tout started tailing us and almost coerced us to the back-side gate despite our trying to shrug him off. His sole motive was that we buy flowers and prasad etc for offering to the goddess from his shop and when we did not do so, he was quite disappointed and left us alone. We were now at the back-entrance. The next pain-point was the directions to deposit our mobile phones, cameras and purses at the counter. So we decided to go solo. One by one, we both visited the temple and saw it. The temple was huge and for a change very-well organised without any confusion. The security was good and directions clear. It was quite clean as compared to other temples.
Darshans over and aarti attended, we drove back on that beautiful drive till we connected again with the main road to Abu Road, the last station in the plains on way to Mount Abu. The road to Mount Abu is really enchanting. Aravalis are not as high as Himalayas, so the gradient is low and drive effortless and one can enjoy the scenic beauty instead of just concentrating on the drive. Also, Aravali hills are hard rock while Himalayas are made of softer terrain.

THE CITY OF MOUNT ABU:
Hill-Desert combo on road to Mt Abu
Mount Abu, the only hill station in Rajasthan, a state known better for its desert is like an oasis of greenery with lush green vegetation all around. Cactii and palms growing on hill-side present a strange picture and have a unique charm of their own.  As per mythological beliefs, the town is named after a serpent called Arbuda distorted as Abu, believed to be the son of Himalaya who had visited this place. There is also an Arbuda Devi Temple which is the deity of the town. Temples, churches, the world headquarter of Brahmakumari order, a number of Jain temples, all located in the vicinity, there is a strong and palpable positive energy in the area. I couldn’t decipher whether it is because of the presence of so many religious places of different order here or is it because of this positive energy that different sects decided to have their establishments in this beautiful hill-station. 



THE WORLD CENTRE OF BRAHMAKUMARI ORDER:
Eternal Light : The emblem
 of Brahmakumari order
The world centre of Brahmakumari order is established here. For the first time in my life, I tried few minutes of meditation here and actually experienced peace within. Trying the same way in Delhi did not yield similar results. What a pity!! :-(
The Brahmakumaris outfit also runs in this centre, J. Watumull Global Hospital & Research Centre, a state of the art hospital started about 20 years ago, which not only provides medical care to in-house paients, but also has outreach programmes for people in the remote areas. Most unlike a usual hospital where staff is rude and the place depressing, this hospital appeared to be exuding a lot of positive energy. The food served was ‘satvik’ in nature,ie, pure vegetarian food without potatoes, onions and garlic and also without red chillies and spices. But how it tasted so delicious, I don’t know.


Brahmakumaris' state of the
art Hospital

Our stay arrangement was in the Hospital’s Guest House, a simple, no-nonsense, very Spartan and very functional place. A fully loaded kitchen..use it, clean it and leave it as you would like to see it when you enter it. One started wondering about the futility of unnecessary items we keep amassing in our houses.




GURUSHIKHAR:
Thick fog enveloped the roadside
A roadside lake on way to Gurushikhar
Situated at ~1750m above sea-level, Gurushikhar having the temple of Dattatreya, is the highest peak in Mount Abu region. The morning was quite foggy and cold and driving uphill was quite a challenge but we were in an adventurous mood and started off. Tearing through the sheets of dense fog, we reached the Gurushikhar base.

Way to Gurushikhar lined with shops
Steps leading to GuruShikhar
As we parked the car, we were pestered by the palki-walas who tried their level best to scare us of the unending steps we will have to climb and hence should sit in their palki and get carried up there to Mount Guru Shikhar. We wrenched ourselves clear of their clutches and then it was time for climbing hundreds of steps to reach the top.  The steps to the temple were lined on both sides with shops selling prasad, material for pooja and stuff like
Gurushikhar top, a foggy view
The Ancient Bell
handicrafts, curios, tea and snacks. Each one was beckoning us to visit them as there  were hardly any  visitors at that point of time, it being cold, foggy and windy, not really the best time for tourists. The positive side of this was that we were able to stop at every turn to enjoy and capture the scenic beauty without being pushed around. Finally we reached the top and saw the temple carved out in a massive rock. 



Grass on Rock or a huge mouse?
The huge bell installed over there is stated to be as old as 1411 AD.  I enjoyed ringing the bell in the names of all our family members one by one, all the friends, humanity, global peace and whatever came to my mind. But when I turned around to look behind my back, it was frighteningly steep. One step backward and I would have landed in the ditch thousands of feet down below and would have been in direct communion with my ancestres.Ha..ha..ha..  But nothing of the sort happened and I am sitting here typing away my blog :-) .
                                                                                                                     

Hot Bread Pakodas
On our way back, we stopped over to pick up some mementos and finally for a hot cup of tea and pakodas.By this time, we had compromised all our hygiene standards and had overcome all our fears, fear of contracting amoebiasis infection, fear of consuming burnt oil which could be carcinogenic, fear of fried potatoes which could raise our blood-sugar levels and fear of consuming too much tannin in the boiled tea leading to acidity.
We were now turning into real travellers. What a big relief!!!

BRAHMAKUMARI PEACE PARK:

A view of the Peace Park
The next stop was Brahma Kumaris’ Peace Park. I don’t think I have ever seen a more peaceful park in my life. Aesthetically designed in a huge piece of land, the only sound one heard was that of chirping of birds. The fragrances were so good that one wanted to inhale as much as possible and fill one’s lungs with it. The flowers of all hues and shades were a real treat for the eyes. We had to compulsorily listen to one short 
Enjoying Peace
sermon by a Brahmakumar but the positive side of that was a realisation once again that God is dimensionless. It is only a point, a point of light. And this light is spoken of in almost every religion. All the icons which are worshipped are only some kind of 
Om
incarnations or children of God who were sent to this world as single purpose vehicle (SPV). It made sense. What is God? Who is God? Where does he reside? Who has seen him?
So it reinforced what I think of God that God is the voice of your own conscience and he lives in your mind.
Jab dil kare gardan jhuka, aur dekh le tasweer-e-khuda. The Peace Park also had a few Meditation Rooms where you could just walk in and sit either on the floor or on the chair in absolutely peaceful and dimly-lit interiors and meditate. I liked the practicality of the approach considering that most of us find it miserable to sit on the floor now.
I am becoming a fan of this system and did not feel like leaving but had to as hubby was getting worried about my probable conversion into this order.



ACHALGARH FORT:
The road to Achalgarh
The next destination was Achalgarh Fort which was built by Rana Kumbha in the 15th century. It sits atop a mountain peak in the Aravali hills and has strong battle-walls around it. The road to the Fort was ordinary but the scenic beauty superb!
On way to the Fort was Achaleshwar Temple, a temple of Lord Shiva built in the 9th century with a Nandi of Ashta Dhatu at the entrance.




A wind eroded rock on
way to Achalgarh



Overall it was a beautiful drive with wind eroded rocks hanging in the air adding to the scenic beauty.





DILWARA TEMPLES:


Dilwara Temple
It was already lunch time but the pakodas were sustaining us quite well and we decided to visit Dilwara Temples too before settling down for lunch. The white temples looked very inviting from outside but the instructions to deposit the cameras, the purses, the mobiles everything at the counter somehow put us off. So we decided to take turns and visit the temple individually. I kept standing in the queue for over an hour but the queue was not moving at all. Finally, we decided to skip this and left the place to settle down for a nice hot lunch in a nearby shack.
Though bereft of fears of hygiene now, I wondered why no good chain of hotels and restaurants ever thought of opening a restaurant here. Is it because the tourists are mostly from economically weaker section and lower middle class of the society and may not be able to afford eating in high-end joints? Perhaps, yes!  The next thought that raises its head, is it the economically weaker sections of the society who are real believers in God and form the bulk of the pilgrims? Do we need God only in times of dire necessity? To fall back on? To derive succour from? Many questions, many answers... I'll leave it for some other time.



NAKKI LAKE:
Lunch over, we drove down to Mount Abu and went straight to Nakki Lake which is in the heart of the city of Mount Abu.

Benches provided by SBI as
part of Community Services
A tourist floating in a balloon
in Nakki Lake
Nakki Lake is considered holy by the locals as this is believed that it was dug up by the Gods using their nails (nakh in Hindi ).







A rainbow was visible in the
fountain near the lake
Nakki Lake
Strolling around the lake, it was nice to see beautiful houses and hotels around the lake. There also were benches engraved with SBI logo and name. Good community service initiative by the local branch!

On the road encircling the lake, was Bharat Memorial made by Sahara group. We enjoyed observing the rainbow on one of the man-made fountains. Also saw the profile of Toad Rock which looks like a toad but is actually a wind eroded rock.
The time was also utilised for long walk and going around the market. I resisted the urge to shop more but limited myself to buying a cardigan from the Tibetan Bazar.


FROM SUNSET POINT TO MOONRISE POINT:
Sunset at Sunset Point in Mt Abu
As the evening dawned, it was time to drive towards sunset point. Having parked the car at a designated place, 
we started walking towards the


Sun is soon going to set



sunset point. Now it was time for poney-walas to be after us for hiring them for going to the sunset point.  We had to ignore them as we had no intentions of sitting on a poney and be led in some cases by 7-8 years old pony-walas. I wonder how people do not mind being led by such kids while riding a horse.
We walked up to the sunset point app 2kms. The trees lining the way were tall and majestic and we enjoyed the scenic beauty ignoring the overpowering  horse-dung smell. The sunset point was already crowded and people were taking positions. There was the atmosphere of a big mela. The place was littered with wrappers of Lays Chips, Tiger biscuits, Coke bottles, plastic tea-cups and mineral water bottles. It looked like it had not been swept for days on. "Don't look down, look up", I told myself. 
 

The moon rises as the sun sets

As the sun started setting, all the shutterbugs got active. We also took a lot of photos and once the sun set, turned around to go back. Public was now pushing each other to go back. What an impatient lot we all are!
What I noticed at that time was the magnificent moonrise and tried to capture the moment on my camera which is posted here for you to see. From sunset to moonrise!

A sky so pure and moon so radiant






It is time to go back now. Tomorrow morning, we are heading off to Delhi bringing the journey to an end.





MOUNT ABU TO DELHI (DAYS 15-16):

"Pl take my photo," he had requested & posed for it.
The route we opted for on the basis of shorter distance on our way back was a miscalculation as the State Highway was not as good as the National Highway, to which we had got used to by this time though the natural scenic beauty was par excellence all through.
On way, while passing through a railway crossing and noticing a beautiful hillock in the background, I started clicking my camera. A road-side vendor noticed that and waived his hands saying “Take my photo too.” And then he posed for it and stood in style. As I clicked his photo and the car moved, he waived out thanking me. He will never see his photo and I don’t even know his name. Only his photo is here with me. But I will always remember him for his enthusiasm and a beaming face.


Happy and satisfied at the end of journey


From Mount Abu to Jaipur, driving over 550kms and for ~11 hours at a stretch, we stopped overnight at Jaipur and reached home…sweet home, the next day afternoon.
And thus came to an end our 16 days’ enjoyable trip to Rajasthan and Gujarat.
In my next blog, I plan to give you details of essential packing list on such travels. So long then...




                                                 
                                                        It is a small thing
                                                              in the peak of winter
                                   to have enjoyed the sun,        
                                                 to have lived life,                          
                                to have thought,
                                              to have planned,
                                                       to have done :-)

For more TRAVELOGUES, please visit my dedicated blog on travels
http://globalhindustani.blogspot.in

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

11. DELHI-DWARKA-DELHI BY CAR : DWARKA (TRAVELOGUE)

DELHI - JAIPUR - AJMER - CHITTOR - UDAIPUR - AHMEDABAD - DWARKA -AHMEDABAD - MOUNT ABU - JAIPUR - DELHI

Days 08-09-10-11: DWARKA
The best restaurant we found
Temples dot the highway in Gujarat
Day 8, and we started off post-lunch for Dwarka, the ultimate destination of our journey and the farthest western end of India. The roads in Gujarat are excellent and traffic quite disciplined. However, what we missed most en route was the presence of good restaurants which were conspicuous by their absence. Actually, there are more Swami Narayan Temples in Gujarat than tea-joints or eateries. Honestly speaking, for the next three days, we gave a complete go bye to our usual hygiene standards and tried to enjoy the phaphras, khakras, bhajiyas, gotus, namkeens and Gujju masala tea.

The Gathiyas, Gotu & Bhajiyas

The tea cup vis-a-vis my thumb
The tea shots would invariably finish off in a sip as the size of the cup was astonishingly small. To give you an idea, I have posted here a picture of the thumb size tea cup which put Mumbai’s cutting tea to shame. I wonder how these people would have reacted if they had seen me having tea in my usual large mug.

RAJKOT:
SBS Guest House in Rajkot
By evening, we reached our midway halt, i.e., Rajkot which is about 225 kms from Ahmedabad.  This town is one of the important towns of Saurashtra region. Mahatma Gandhi did his early schooling here but there were hardly any places worth visiting. So we spent the evening strolling around the city and getting its feel and resting at the Guest House. 
The best part of the evening was a lovely khadi kurta length (2.25mtr) which I picked up from Polyvastra Khadi Bhandar at Rajkot for a paltry sum of Rs 92.



DWARKA TOWNSHIP:
Clean & functional Guest House
at Dwarka
Next day morning, ie, on the 9th day, after enjoying a sumptuous breakfast at the Guest House, we started off for Dwarka without breaking our record of 9am departures. Same good roads, same good traffic and same missing of tea joints en route. By noon, we reached the famous Dwarka….  Dwarka which one has read about in all the mythological books since childhood, which one has seen time and again in the TV serials, the abode of Lord Krishna, one of the four dhaams, one of the most important religious places of Hindus, and which is the farthest western end of India.


Forget hygiene,look at food
The main market of Dwarka
But what a come down! “ Hold on. Don’t give up so soon”, I told myself and kept encouraging my husband to look at the positive side and ignore the dirt, the muck, the flies, the dirty lanes and stray cows. The place of stay was reasonably good, neat and clean and very functional. But we were not able to locate even one respectable eating joint, not even a road-side poori-sabzi shack. But paapi pait ka sawal tha and we decided to compromise on our hygiene standards. The most interesting part was that each one of us was feeling that way inside but kept telling others, “It’s ok; not too bad” I enjoyed the spirit behind this thoughtfulness and concern for each other.


NAGESHWAR TEMPLE: 
In front of Nageshwar Temple
Shiv under Shiva's shadow 
As the famous Dwarkadheesh Temple opens only at 5pm in the evening, we decided to utilise the post-lunch time to visit Nageshwar Temple located at a distance of 20 kms from Dwarka. After reaching there, we realised that it was one of the 12 Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva in India and the visit  to Dwarka Dhaam is not considered complete unless one visits this Jyotirlinga. The temple had a huge statue of Shiva outside but inside one could go to the sanctum sanctorum only in one piece of cloth and the Shiv accompanying me refused to comply. So we peeped at the Jyotirling from above and came out.


GOPI TALAO:
White chandan or mud-sticks?
At Radha ka Talao
Not far away from Nageshwar Temple is Gopi Talao. I wondered whether it was this place where the shooting of “ Bol Radha bol sangam hoga ke nahin…” was done for the famous movie Sangam. All around the talao, they were selling white chandan sticks which were made from mud from the pond, supposed to be good for one’s complexion, basically multani mitti.

"Indian Gai...no no Indian cow"
I must share something interesting here. As I stopped over to buy the white Chandan sticks, Shiv decided to capture the photograph of a cow. Seeing this, some village boys stopped by and started saying , “Indian gai”… “Indian gai.”  Another one interjected, “Not like this. Say Indian Cow”. Then they all started saying, “Indian cow!… Indian cow!’’. In the mean time I reached there and one of the boys asked me pointing towards Shiv, “Which country is he from?” I was amused but put on a serious front and replied, “From Italy!” Shiv could not help giggling and spilled the beans, “Arrey, I am from India only”. As the boys again looked at me inquisitively, I told them, “He has lived in Delhi for many years now and has picked up Hindi well.” The boys were mighty happy that an Italian could speak Hindi so well and left. How we laughed our hearts out after that! 

It was now time to go back and visit the famous Dwarkadheesh Temple.



DWARKADHEESH TEMPLE:
Dwarkadheesh Temple in Dwarka 
Dwarkadheesh temple is one of the most important pilgrimage centres for Hindus.
After Krishna motivated Pandavas to fight for their rights and after the great war of Mahabharat was over and all the stalwarts of that time killed, Krishna had initially decided to make Mathura his capital. But due to various attacks on Mathura by his enemies, he decided to  shift to Dwarka and establish himself there. At some stage, Krishna died an unfortunate death due to an unintended arrow of a hunter and Dwarka city got submerged under water…Must be some kind of tsunami, as this area had been reclaimed from water like Backbay Reclamation in Mumbai. His descendants later constructed Dwarkadheesh temple in his memory.

A beggar having a siesta
Dwarkadheesh temple’s architecture is absolutely impressive. The temple is tall and majestic with beautiful designs and carvings  all around. Also, it was comparatively cleaner and a little better organised when compared to other Hindu temples. The statues in the temples of Krishna and his mother are placed opposite each other so that the mother and son can see each other all the time. The temple is 170’ high and the flag flying atop the temple is extremely long and we were told is changed three times a day.
Climbing down a long stairway with shops on both sides, selling trinkets, religious mementos, sindoor, chandan and prasad etc, we reached river Gomti behind the temple. Stepping in its cold water was quite soothing for the bare feet which had now started hurting due to presence of grit, gravel and pebbles in the temple precincts. The floating lamps offered by the devotees presented a divine sight.
Alas! No cameras were allowed inside the temple and I was deprived of a great opportunity to click some nice photos.



At Rukmani's Temple

RUKMANI'S TEMPLE :
On day 10, on way to Bhet Dwarka, our first stop was at Rukmani's Temple located in an exclusive locale and not in any cluster. Rukmani was the first and the senior-most queen of Lord Krishna. Her temple has lovely carvings and is a marvelous piece of architecture.





BHET DWARKA:

Bhet Dwarka is at some distance from land and one has to take a ferry. This was the most fearful experience of my life. There was simply NO system NO procedure.
The entrance to Bhet
Dwarka Palace
One simply gets carried away with the crowd and starts hopping on to the next boat available. There were no queues, no system whatsoever, no discipline…just plain frenzy to get into the boat. People were virtually throwing their children and pushing their women into the boat.  How many passengers can sail through safely, nobody knows. I wanted to get out but that was also not possible. Was there any security? Yes, God will save all. And God did. We all reached Bhet Dwarka after paying Rs 10 each as charges without any ticket in return. Mera Bharat mahan!!!


In a lane approaching the palace
Trinkets on sale outside
Bhet Dwarka
Bhet Dwarka is an ancient palace, where once upon a time Lord Krishna is stated to have resided with his 8 Queens, Rukmini, Satyabhama, Jambwanti et al and 16,000 wives. The chambers of all the Queens were marked separately. There was one for Radha also. Does it mean that Radha too had shifted to Dwarka leaving Brij bhoomi behind? I am also wondering why Krishna never got married to Radha. If he could have  8 queens and 16,000 wives irrespective of their age, caste and creed, the number could have increased by one more.    
Bhet Dwarka is called so as Krishna met his long-lost childhood friend Sudama in this palace only.

Clean and blue...Arabian Sea
Seagulls following the boat
The return boat journey was a repeat performance and I vowed never to come back here. However, the water of the Arabian sea was azure blue and looked very enchanting.  The seagulls flying after the boat from where the passengers were throwing feeds into the water, presented an awesome view. The sea breeze was absolutely soothing.  And all this helped me to put my fears in the backdrop and enjoy the beauty of the place.

Gujarat growth story is real:Smooth roads & windmills galore


On our journey back to Ahmedabad, we noticed the Gujarat growth and development by way of numerous wind-mills of different types. These are instrumental in producing cheap power for the area.
Was there a Don Quixote lurking in the background?  





TODAY'S LEARNINGS ;-)
  1. Believe in God. Only He can save you in situations like this type of boat-ride in our country.
  2. Chain is to be pronounced as Chenn, Fish as Phiss, Shoes as Sooz, Fashion as Fasson and Snacks as Snakes. Soo chhe?
  3. Always carry your Tea kit with you while travelling in Gujarat. A flask of hot water and tea-bags are preferable to thick tea shots on the highway.
For more TRAVELOGUES, please visit my dedicated blog on travels http://globalhindustani.blogspot.in