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Bali – A Little India in Indonesia

Bali – A Little India in Indonesia

bali-little-india-indonesia
Besakih Temple Complex

Indonesia Series Part-II. Appeared in December 2016 issue of Smart Photography, India’s Premier Photography Magazine.

Bali – A Little India in Indonesia

In my previous travel story, we travelled to Lombok. Let’s embark on a Bali journey this time.

You may read Indonesia Series Part-I (Lombok – Bali of 70s) HERE.

I will start this journey by asking a question – in how many locations outside India would you get a feeling that you are in the land of Mahabharata, Bhagwat Gita, and Ramayana?

Not many, I guess. But in Bali, I constantly kept getting reminded of India’s holy epics!

Bali-Little-India-Indonesia

Bali ranks high every time a travel conversation veers towards beaches, water sports, nightlife, backpacking, volcanoes, and more. But one fact that gets seldom talked about is the Hindu influence here. Of the 17,000-odd islands that form the Indonesian archipelago, Bali is the only officially Hindu island.

bali-little-india-indonesia
Gita Updesh – an elaborate sculpture in a Denpasar roundabout

We were staying in Seminyak, an area surrounded by Kuta, Denpasar, and North Kuta. To give you a further sense of its location, let me just say that it is on the rear edge of the lower fin of this fish-shaped island – and this fish is swimming from left to right.

Seminyak is a lot quieter than Kuta. But then, that’s not saying much as even this area is a major travel hub in Bali with the presence of many luxury hotels including the Oberoi Bali. It is fast developing into the high-street shopping capital of Bali.

bali-little-india-indonesia
The steps leading to Besakih Temple

Besakih Temple

One of the days, we decided to travel to northwest Bali to visit the scenic Besakih Temple. This complex has 23 separate, yet related temples, located on 6 levels on the slope of the highest mountain in Bali – Mount Agung. We were glad we were accompanied by a guide from our hotel as he was well prepared and had carried sarongs. The scam here is that the touts insist you hire a sarong at an exorbitant rental of US$ 25-30 each and they also compulsorily force you to engage a guide at equally ridiculous fees.

bali-little-india-indonesia
Intricate carved sculptures of Vishnu Temple in Besakih Complex

Mount Agung is normally covered in clouds. But, during our visit we were fortunate to have seen it. Making our way to the temple complex, high humidity made its presence felt and we were sweating profusely. It is definitely advisable to wear a hat during a visit to Besakih.

Besides various other Hindu deities, there is also a Vishnu temple at the highest level of the complex. Intricately carved sculptures and idols adorn this temple. The compound of this temple accords the best view to the spread-out temple complex!

bali-little-india-indonesia
Goa Gajah cave entrance (do note the Hindu mythological connection of this bas relief)

Goa Gajah

While returning from Besakih Temple, we took a detour and went to Goa Gajah – a cave temple with a recently excavated sarovar (pond). Both, the cave entrance and the sarovar had superb sculptures and carvings of gods and goddesses – some from Hindu mythology. Inside the cave, there is an idol of Lord Ganesha!

bali-little-india-indonesia
Idols inside Goa Gajah

A usual drive through Ubud took us past a string of streets, each one lined with art galleries displaying Balinese and other art.

The roundabouts across our route had well-painted and well-maintained sculptures – from Geeta Updesh to Arjuna with his bow and arrow, from Rama with the monkey army to Vishnu killing a demon while riding garuda!

bali-little-india-indonesia
Foreground – Goa Gajah Sarovar. Background – Goa Gajah Cave.

It is interesting that the manifestations of these gods and mythological characters resemble Hindu gods, mythological characters, and their accepted form. Vishnu riding the garuda is holding the conch shell and chakra; while Arjuna clearly seems to be wielding his favoured bow – Gandiva!

Tanah Lot and Uluwatu

We spent a couple of sunsets at scenic Balinese Temples dedicated to sea gods. Both, Tanah Lot as well as Uluwatu form a part of the seven temples dotting the south-western coast of Bali. Both are dedicated to Rudra, the Vedic manifestation of Shiva.

bali-little-india-indonesia
Tanah Lot Temple gets surrounded by seawater during high tide

While Tanah Lot gets surrounded by seawater in high tide, Uluwatu is perched on a cliff that is 70 metres high.

Local guides recommend that the traveller should visit these temples around sunset. While sunset does add magic to these temples, getting good images of these temples around sunset definitely poses a challenge!

You may choose to shop in touristy Kuta or pricey Saminyak, experience the colourful nightlife across the entire southwestern Bali, or closely interact with free-spirited and talented Balinese artists in Ubud.

You may even decide to do the wildlife trails in Bali to check out the elephants and a wide variety of monkeys. It may be your wont to trek the volcanos and jungles, or indulge in exotic watersports.

But if you are as fascinated with the Hindu discovery outside India as I am, I definitely recommend that you visit the places I have shared in this travel story. You may even choose to do one better by hunting out and discovering a few more gems and come back with story richer than mine!

bali-little-india-indonesia
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Silent, Yet Eloquent – Cellular Jail, Port Blair

Silent, Yet Eloquent – Cellular Jail, Port Blair

 

silent-yet-eloquent-cellular-jail-port-blair

December 2016 issue of JetWings, the in-flight magazine of Jet Airways, carried my Cellular Jail image shot in Port Blair, Andaman & Nicobar Islands. This monument holds an important place in Modern Indian History.

Silent, Yet Eloquent – Cellular Jail, Port Blair

Cellular Jail forms an integral chapter of India’s freedom struggle. Commissioned by the British in 1896 and completed in 1906, it was built to exile Indian freedom fighters away from mainland India. It was called the ‘Cellular Jail’ as it did not have any dormitory – only solitary confinement cells – 696 of them.

The reason? The British did not want Indian revolutionists to interact and plan their moves. But plan they did, finally liberating India. In a way, despite not being the centre stage, it continually stole the limelight. Today, this National Memorial bears a mute testimony to the success of the freedom struggle and is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Port Blair.

silent-yet-eloquent-cellular-jail-port-blair

silent-yet-eloquent-cellular-jail-port-blair
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Discover how it is carved in stone – Rani-ki-Vav, Patan

Discover how it is carved in stone – Rani-ki-Vav, Patan

Carved in stone, Rani-ki-Vav, Patan

My image has appeared in Radar section of October 2016 issue of JetWings Domestic, the in-flight magazine of Jet Airways (Domestic sectors).

Carved in stone, Rani-ki-Vav, Patan

It is said that this stunning structure, Rani-ki-Vav (The Queen’s Stepwell), was built in 11th century as a tribute to the king and founder of the Solanki Dynasty by his widowed wife, Udayamati. This 64 metre-long stepwell is seven levels deep and is embellished with over 1,500 statues. The stacking of statues on the levels as you go down the stepwell is conceptually an inversion of a typical temple that pays obeisance to water. These sculptures mostly depict Vishnu’s different avatars and the traditional solah shringaar (16 styles of adornments). Rani-ki-Vav made its way into the UNESCO Heritage List in 2014, for its outstanding architecture and creativity, and is an absolute must-see site in Gujarat.

Carved in stone, Rani-ki-Vav, Patan

Carved in stone, Rani-ki-Vav, Patan

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A Tucked-Away Town – Gammelstad

A Tucked-Away Town – Gammelstad

A Tucked-Away Town - Gammelstad
The 15th-century Nederluleå Church was the pivot of community life.

My story, A Tucked-Away Town – Gammelstad, has appeared in October 2016 issue of JetWings International – the in-flight magazine for international sectors of Jet Airways.

Exploring Sweden’s best-preserved church town, Gammelstad

As we approached Gammelstad, the imposing Nederluleå Church filled the horizon. Our guide, a summer volunteer, pointed at the imposing structure and said, “This church was built by the Swedish to stake a claim on the territory rather than with the intention to propagate religion.”

We had driven from Luleå, a city on the coast of northern Sweden, to Gammelstad to see its deep-red cottages, over 400 in number. The church town became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

A Tucked-Away Town - Gammelstad
Quaint red cottages with farms dot the Gammelstad Village

In 1323, a peace treaty was signed between Sweden and Novgorod Republic, a medieval Slavic state that extended from Baltic Sea to regions of modern Russia. In those days, the boundaries of the two countries were not clearly defined, thus resulting in attempts of colonisation. The first move to assert its lien on the territory was made by Sweden in 1492 when the stone church was inaugurated.

A Tucked-Away Town - Gammelstad
The altarpiece at the Nederluleå Church is one of the finest of its kind in Sweden

Across the road from the church is the Visitor Centre, a good place to start a tour of the town. The Centre regales the town’s history with an exhibition, slideshows, and brochures. Our guide took us through the architectural model of the town, complementing it with stories from the medieval times – the narration was nothing short of a period drama!

The church town tradition

Nederluleå Church was the pivot of community life for villages within a radius of 15 kilometres. Though privately owned, the cottages were not meant for permanent residence – the pilgrims resided in these wooden cottages during religious festivals, when owing to the distance, travelling to and fro from their village was difficult.

A Tucked-Away Town - Gammelstad
Measures for safety such as a firefighting tool is placed at an accessible spot

These cottages had no water supply, no heating facility, and no provision for cooking. Even today, these church cottages are used in the traditional way – there is no running water, no open flames are allowed, and the cottages can be used for not more than one night. This spartan lifestyle continues to define the church town, even today.

A Tucked-Away Town - Gammelstad
Travellers often bake their own bread, an activity that we also engaged in

Things changed in 1621 when the town got its city rights. Luleå was initially founded here and it transformed from being a temporary church town to a town of residents. That worked well for a few years but, in 1649, Luleå was moved to its current location, 10 km away from Gammelstad, to meet the growing demands of an expanding maritime trade. This development led to Gammelstad re-assuming its church town role. A beached ship that we discovered during our walk through the town is a telltale of the times when Gammelstad was a harbour.

Around the town

The construction of the Nederluleå Church started in the 15th century and continued into the early 16th century. The church has a huge organ that was inaugurated in 1971.

A Tucked-Away Town - Gammelstad
High tea at a church town cottage

During our visit, we engaged in baking bread using a flat stone oven and making butter. The pilgrims, during their stay, made their own bread here. Making butter entailed churning buttermilk in a tall wooden barrel – a rhythmic process emitting sounds akin to a traditional percussion instrument.

A Tucked-Away Town - Gammelstad
Pews arranged inside the magnificient Nederluleå Church

At one of the eateries, you are served the bread you have baked with evening tea – a tradition practiced in Gammelstad for the last 400 years. Interestingly, it is said that while all pilgrims baked bread, making butter was restricted to the well-heeled as butter was used as currency in those days.

We had another culinary surprise in store for us. In the heart of the town, we savoured a seven-course exotic meal at Kaptensgården. A fine dining restaurant, Kaptensgården serves preparations made from local meats and ingredients. The menu ranged from ptarmigan to quail, white fish to salmon, reindeer to chicken and much more.

A Tucked-Away Town - Gammelstad
The antique key to the church town’s museum

After lunch, we visited the Hägnan Open Air Museum – a town cottage converted into a museum. A walk through Hägnan, along with its large vintage key, takes you closer to the lifestyle of the town. Amidst the small red cottages, stands a fairly sizeable farmhouse, which is Gammelstad’s mayor’s house.

Gammelstad, with its humble cottages, is a remarkable example of the traditional church town of northern Scandinavia. Instantly allowing you to travel back in time, this is indeed a travel experience not to be missed!

A Tucked-Away Town - GammelstadA Tucked-Away Town - Gammelstad

 

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Windmills at Kinderdijk, The Netherlands

Windmills at Kinderdijk, The Netherlands

Windmills at Kinderdijk, The Netherlands

In September 2016 issue of JetWings International, my image from Kinderdijk, The Netherlands appeared in their regular BW section – Radar.

Windmills at Kinderdijk, The Netherlands

When you live seven metres below sea level, you need to keep the water out. The residents of Kinderdijk, a village about 12 km south-east of Rotterdam, deployed an ingenious technique for this purpose – an elaborate arrangement of windmills. Built around 1740, 19 of these windmills continue to survive and fulfill its original purpose of keeping the land dry. They also provide a three-storeyed living quarters to the farmers who own them. A windmill-turned museum gives you a glimpse into the local culture and lifestyle. This well-preserved innovation has earned the windmills of Kinderdijk a UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

Windmills at Kinderdijk, The Netherlands

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The last days of Vincent

The last days of Vincent

BLink, the weekend magazine of The Hindu’s BusinessLine carried this article of mine on Saturday, august 27, 2016

The last days of Vincent

Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum looks back at the most disturbed yet defining years of the Dutch painter’s life

Year 1881. It was at the age of 27 that Vincent Van Gogh considered painting as a full-time occupation. And it wasn’t until 1888 that the Dutch post-Impressionist artist had formed the style that the world remembers him by. In just two years after that — on July 27, 1890 — Vincent shot himself in the chest. The bullet wound ended his life in 48 hours.

The last days of Vincent
Through sickness and trouble: ‘On the Verge of Insanity’ is a study of the events that may have led to Vincent Van Gogh’s suicide

‘On the Verge of Insanity’, an ongoing exhibition at Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, delves into the last 18 months of the life of the tortured artist, who cut off his ear during an altercation with his friend, Paul Gauguin, the French painter. Vincent’s last days were spent in poverty while battling mental illness. During the few years he devoted completely to painting, he is said to have created over 2,000 pieces — over 850 oil paintings and the rest, sketches. That comes to about three works in just five days.

The last days of Vincent
Artist’s corner: Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam is the second most visited museum in the Netherlands

Despite the frenzied pace, Vincent managed to sell just one painting during his lifetime. The buyer was Anna Boch, a Belgian painter, who paid 400 francs (around $2,000 now) to the impoverished Dutchman, who lived on his brother Theo’s kindness. A heavy drinker who didn’t eat enough, Vincent’s troubled behaviour sent him to a mental institution several times. And his violent fight with Gauguin led people to ask why a man as gifted as him would do any of this.

The last days of Vincent
A hearing: An audio transcript of a letter (from Emile Bernard to Albert Aurier) containing a description of the altercation between Paul Gauguin and Vincent

Van Gogh Museum’s latest exhibition looks into some of these controversial episodes: Whether or not Vincent cut off only a part of his left ear; whether he was forced into taking admission at the mental asylum; the reasons behind his fight with Gauguin, and his relationship with Theo in the troubled years.

The last days of Vincent
In his words: Pages from Vincent’s diary. The exhibition also showcases letters he wrote to friends and family

The display of information on Vincent’s mental condition — drawn from diagnoses by doctors as well as his correspondence — is punctuated with paintings that mirror the state he was in.

The last days of Vincent
Home for two: A painting of the Yellow House in Arles which Vincent shared with his friend Gauguin

Some of his letters are also available as audio clips in Dutch and English. Among the exhibits is a letter from the residents of Arles, the French town where Vincent cut off his ear, who begged the local mayor to have the painter institutionalised.

While the exhibition is a detailed reconstruction of events that led to Vincent’s suicide, it also includes posthumous diagnoses over the last century into the probable causes of his illness. Quite predictably, the answers are inconclusive.

‘On the Verge of Insanity’ runs till September 25; www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en/whats-on/exhibitions

The last days of Vincent

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Conversations with God

Conversations with God

In August 2016 issue of JetWings International, my image from Wailing Wall, Jerusalem appeared in their regular BW section – Radar. The text was by editorial team from JetWings International.

Conversations with God

Conversations with God. Old City, Jerusalem

A holy place for Jews, the Kotel HaMa’aravi or Western Wall located in the Old City of Jerusalem is a 187-foot-high section of limestone wall— a remnant of the Temple Mount complex, built by Herod the Great, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. Devotees come here to pray, lament the loss of their temple and also pour their hearts out to God; these conversations with divine powers are sometimes so heartfelt that it is often referred to as the ‘Wailing Wall’.

Conversations with God

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Radar – JetWings International – July 2016

Radar – JetWings International – July 2016

Radar - JetWings International - July 2016

Radar – JetWings International – July 2016

This month, my image of Charminar, Hyderabad has been carried in JetWings’ regular BW section called Radar.

Few structures in the world can boast about being the centrepiece around which a city developed. The Charminar in Hyderabad is one such example. Over 400 years ago, Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, the fifth sultan of the Qutb Shahi dynasty and founder of Hyderabad, commissioned this awe-inspiring monument that has now become the city’s icon. It is said that he had vowed to build a mosque in the very place he prayed every day if higher powers wiped out plague from the region — a promise he went on to fulfill.

Today, the Charminar stands proudly in the midst of a bustling bazaar. The mosque occupies the top floor. Each side of the structure is 20 metres wide, while the height of each of the minarets is 49 metres.

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Mauritius for FUN (Part II)

Mauritius for FUN (Part II)

In the last issue, you had read about my first three days in Mauritius (You may read it here). This edition brings you my exploits from the rest of the trip – Mauritius – A 9-lettered word for FUN (Part II). For Part-I, click here!

Mauritius – A 9-lettered word for FUN (Part II)

Mauritius - A 9-lettered Word for FUN (Part II)

On our fourth morning in Mauritius, we were looking forward to a spectacular sunrise. The sun did appear, but only momentarily. It decided to peep out from the horizon and promptly hid behind the clouds.

Mauritius has its own microclimate. It ensures that high temperature and high humidity does not last for long. That morning, we went about checking out Radisson Blu Azuri Resort and Spa Hotel. Its classy décor was striking, yet subtle. The emerald blue pool of the spa and the deep blue of the sky were competing to out-sparkle each other! Suddenly, it started to drizzle. The ocean-side property looked gorgeous as it was washed clean by the mild rain.

Mauritius - A 9-lettered Word for FUN (Part II)
Spa Pool of Radisson Blu Azuri Resort and Spa Hotel

After a hearty breakfast, we set out towards North of Mauritius. Today was ‘In-Water’ day. Our itinerary had mentioned about Sea Walk in Grand Baie area in the morning and a sub scooter ride in the afternoon. Grand Baie has a splendid marina and is one of the two party hubs for locals and tourists alike (the other being Flic en Flac).

A stroll on the sea bed!

Mauritius - A 9-lettered Word for FUN (Part II)
Under Sea Walk

Sea Walk had intrigued us. Some of us did not know how to swim and were naturally apprehensive about any scuba/snorkel gear and a swim in the ocean. With anxiety writ large on some faces, the group sped away in a nifty speedboat towards a platform secured to the ocean bed.

At the platform, we looked around for clues on how we were going to be walking around in the sea nonchalantly. Since the group before us had already plunged in for their walk, all we could see was an intricate network of yellow rubber tubes entwined and floating on the ocean’s glittery surface.

For Part-I, click here!

Soon, the earlier group emerged from the ocean. What we were not prepared for was that they were carrying a heavy, metallic mask with a helmet-like visor on their shoulders. It was connected with an air supply machine on the platform through those intriguing yellow rubber tubes. This was the air supply mechanism for the sea walkers!

With repeated assurances from the Sea Walk operators and the group that emerged, these scared group members also steeled themselves and decided to take the plunge. Once inside the sea, they felt further reassured as their feet touched the seabed that was only 8-10 feet under. We were breathing normally! And soon, we could hear their giggles – that is, if we could call a gargle like sound emerging from grinning faces as giggles. Water does some strange things to normal sounds!

Mauritius - A 9-lettered Word for FUN (Part II)
Beach at Sofitel Mauritius L’Imperial Resort & Spa, Flic en Flac

Soon enough, we were surrounded by a myriad variety of colourful fish – largest numbers being Zebra Fish. Their inhibitions and worries long gone, the scared lot joined us in a tribal dance on the ocean bed. The experience of walking with fish was surreal!

A Tourism Board that means business

Chairman of Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority, Mr. Arnaud Martin, CSK, graciously hosted us for lunch at Le Courtyard. Besides a delectable fare served by the top-notch fine dining restaurant, Mr. Martin’s insights into the Island and its history left us richer. He talked about MTPA’s continual attempts at adding exotic attractions for travellers to Mauritius.

Mauritius - A 9-lettered Word for FUN (Part II)
Souvenir hunting at Port Louis

That afternoon took us to Trou aux Biches in North-Northwest Mauritius – not too far from Grand Baie, but about 20 km from Le Courtyard. Here, at Blue Safari, we again took a speedboat ride to a mid-ocean platform. Soon enough, we changed into wetsuits and waited for our chance to experience another unique underwater adventure – the sub scooter!

Mauritius - A 9-lettered Word for FUN (Part II)
Sea-side pool at Sofitel Mauritius L’Imperial Resort & Spa, Flic en Flac

A bit like a moped, a sub scooter also gets its air supply from the platform. The underwater speed is 3-4 kph. It feels as if you are sitting in a small underwater auto rickshaw that has a transparent bubble-like canopy covering you, allowing you a view of the ocean life as you glide about the blue waters. It seats two and trained divers escort you as you enjoy the ride.

The evening was a relaxed affair as we dined at the beach restaurant called Ocean One while it drizzled steadily outside. We stayed up late as we had a late check out next morning.

The French Connection

Mauritius - A 9-lettered Word for FUN (Part II)
Chateau de Labourdonnais

Chateau de Labourdonnais is a heritage mansion that is still owned by Wiehe family. This French colonial house has been in the family for 162 years. It has been superbly restored during the last decade. It gives an insight into the plantation living in Mauritius. Our forenoon visit here was rounded off by a rum-tasting session.

Mauritius - A 9-lettered Word for FUN (Part II)
Verandah of Chateau de Labourdonnais

Sugar production is an integral part of Mauritius’ history. Our next stop was L’Aventure du Sucre – an erstwhile sugar factory, now turned into a sugar production process museum. Besides rum tasting, we also tasted various types of sugars here – from raw to refined.

The afternoon was spent souvenir-hunting in Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius. Besides scrounging the Waterfront markets and cafes, we also checked out the Blue Penny Museum that houses two of the rarest postage stamps in World Philately.

Old is gold

Mauritius - A 9-lettered Word for FUN (Part II)
A calming water body at Sofitel Mauritius L’Imperial Resort & Spa, Flic en Flac

That evening, we checked into our third hotel of the trip – Sofitel Mauritius L’Imperial Resort & Spa, Flic en Flac (West of the island). Despite being a twenty-five-year-old property, its charm is evident as soon as you swing into its driveway. Water bodies, fountains, native Mauritian thatched roofs, sprawling gardens, a turquoise pool overlooking the ocean – they collectively seduce your senses. The cherry topping that night was an exclusive Teppanyaki dinner created by a magician of a chef!

Mauritius - A 9-lettered Word for FUN (Part II)
Seven coloured earth at Chamarel Estate

Our penultimate day in Mauritius took us to some different parts of the Chamarel Estate – seven-coloured earth and Curious Corner. Seven-coloured sands are a natural volcanic phenomenon that has multi-hued volcanic earth concentrated in a small area, while the Curious Corner boasts many masterful illusions.

Mauritius - A 9-lettered Word for FUN (Part II)
Let’s do a group photograph while we defy gravity

Some of these illusions include gravity-defying photo opportunities, gaping down an elevator shaft as the elevator floor caves in and a Hall of Illusions (similar to a set from the 70s hit, Enter The Dragon, where Mr. Han and Bruce Lee engage in a climax scene fight).

Mauritius - A 9-lettered Word for FUN (Part II)
Oops, the elevator floor just gave way!

Gliding on the ocean

Mauritius - A 9-lettered Word for FUN (Part II)
Le Morne provides an imposing backdrop for Crystal Rock

The afternoon offered our most thrilling moments during our Mauritius stay. We went Sea-Karting near Le Morne and Crystal Rock – two of the most recognisable spots in Mauritius! Sea-Karting offered a-thrill-a-minute experience in a 2×2.8 metre speedboat we rode ourselves. Despite zipping around at speeds of over 60 kph in 15 feet waves, its safety record is unmatched – it does not overturn. This makes it any adrenaline junky’s favourite while offering ultimate safety!

Mauritius - A 9-lettered Word for FUN (Part II)
Sea-Karting Fun!

Grinning ear-to-ear, we reached our hotel where another breath-taking visual delight waited for us – our dinner was in an exclusive setting by the beach. While we were enjoying delicious cocktails, a set of fire dancers arrived and gave a performance that enthralled!

Next day, we had an afternoon flight to catch. But, we were behaving like we hadn’t had enough of Mauritius just yet. We took a speedboat ride out into the ocean to spot and swim with dolphins! After ogling at these cute creatures, we also snorkeled and swam with fish.

Mauritius - A 9-lettered Word for FUN (Part II)
Waterfalls are everywhere in Mauritius

As we left Sofitel Mauritius L’Imperial, profusely thanking the hotel’s management team, the thought uppermost in my mind was – “While this island holiday offered a lot of action and adventure in the ocean, what it offered on land was equally astonishing.”

In case you find it difficult to believe my statement, I urge you to visit and experience for yourself the unlimited FUN Mauritius stands for!

You may check out more attractions in Mauritius here.

Here’s the published article titled Mauritius – A 9-lettered word for FUN (Part II):

Mauritius - A 9-lettered Word for FUN (Part II)

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A WALK DOWN HISTORY – KUMBHALGARH

A WALK DOWN HISTORY – KUMBHALGARH

A WALK DOWN HISTORY - KUMBHALGARH
The majestic dome of Badal Mahal

My article on Kumbhalgarh has appeared in July 2016 issue of JetWings, the in-flight magazine of Jet Airways.

SURROUNDED BY THE MIGHTY ARAVALLI MOUNTAINS SITS THE SPLENDID KUMBHALGARH FORT IN RAJASTHAN.

A WALK DOWN HISTORY – KUMBHALGARH

Looking at a knee-high stone structure that resembled a small temple and housed a couple of vermillion-covered stone idols, I was intrigued and asked my guide about it. He told me it was the Bhairon Temple, and noticing my raised eyebrows added, “No. It is not the Indian deity Bhairava, but a monk, Bhairon Singh, after whom the temple takes its name.”

A WALK DOWN HISTORY - KUMBHALGARH
The Bhairon Singh temple, where the monk is said to have sacrificed himself.

A Story of Supreme Sacrifice

This piqued my curiosity. He went on to tell me a tale of extreme sacrifice. He mentioned that when Rana Kumbha, the then ruler of Mewar, was getting this fort built, the construction completed during the day would mysteriously crumble and fall apart in the night. Rana suspected sabotage. He assigned the fact-finding task to his trusted general.

A WALK DOWN HISTORY - KUMBHALGARHA few nights of vigil later, the general reported that the happening seems otherworldly and no one was indulging in any foul play. Rana asked around to check the probable causes for these weird episodes. The general came across the monk, Bhairon Singh, who told Rana that they would be able to build the fort only if someone voluntarily sacrifices his life for the cause.

A WALK DOWN HISTORY - KUMBHALGARH
Badal Mahal is the highest point of the fortress

Bhairon Singh noticed that Rana was worried and he willingly offered to sacrifice his life, but on the condition that his name be kept alive even after his death. Rana agreed and kept his promise. The spot from where Bhairon Singh started his sacrificial walk was where the main entrance of the fort (Hanuman Pol or Hanuman Gate) had been built; the spot where he sacrificed himself was where this little temple had been built; and the spot where Bhairon Singh’s body finally fell became the main entrance to the palace.

A War Strategist and an Architect

Rana Kumbha is credited with an astonishing feat of having built 84 forts—of which he designed 32! As a brave military strategist, some of the forts built by him have a glittering track record of seldom having fallen to the enemy. Kumbhalgarh is one of the forts that was both, designed and built by Rana.

A WALK DOWN HISTORY - KUMBHALGARH
Ruins of a royal stable in the fort premises

Rana selected this unique location for strategic reasons—anyone approaching the fort could not see it till he was just about a kilometre from the fort, meaning that when the enemy would get a glimpse of the fort, he would concurrently be spotted by the fort guards—a definite strategic advantage. The fort was built on a ridge that separated the arid side of Aravallis from the fertile pasture. Thus, in case an escape became necessary during a battle, it was easier to flee into the thick vegetation cover.

The Great Wall of India

A WALK DOWN HISTORY - KUMBHALGARH
The peripheral wall of the fort, which runs for 36 km, is second only to the Great Wall of China

An astonishing fact unknown to most is that after the Great Wall of China, Kumbhalgarh Fort’s peripheral wall is the longest one in the world. The wall runs around the perimeter of the fort for a modest 36 km and is wide enough for eight horses to stand side by side.

A WALK DOWN HISTORY - KUMBHALGARH
As many as 300 Jain temples dot the fort, a testimony to the flourishing culture.

Kumbhalgarh Fort was built in the 1440s and its construction took 16 years to be completed. The fort houses approx. 360 temples—of which 300 are Jain temples and the rest are dedicated to other Hindu deities. Along with five other hill forts of Rajasthan, Kumbhalgarh Fort was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013.

A WALK DOWN HISTORY - KUMBHALGARH
Rani Mahal is one of the numerous palaces on the fort

The highest point of the fortress is Badal Mahal (Palace of Clouds). It is here that Maharana Pratap, one of the legendary rulers of Mewar, was born.

A WALK DOWN HISTORY - KUMBHALGARH
A view of the surrounding hillsides and deserts from Badal Mahal

Given its vantage, one can see sand dunes of the Thar Desert from the fort on a clear day. Kumbhalgarh Fort has only been captured once during its entire history; this was because the fort ran out of water despite having one of the most sophisticated rainwater harvesting systems in place at that time. It did not fall to a single army, but to the joint armies of Mughal Emperor Akbar, Raja Man Singh (Amer), Raja Udai Singh (Marwar) and the Sultan of Gujarat.

A Must-Visit

During your next trip to Rajasthan, make it a point to visit this magnificent heritage marvel.

While in the state, you could also make a short trip to Haldi Ghati and the Ranakpur Jain Temple, both detours on the Udaipur-Kumbhalgarh route.

A Walk Down History - Kumbhalgarh

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The Unsung Kashmir

The Unsung Kashmir

Just a couple of days back, my Photo Feature on offbeat destinations of Kashmir went online on Condenast Traveller’s site. To view it on CNTI site, click here. The Photo Feature is reproduced here:

The Unsung Kashmir:

While Kashmir may have been making the news for wrong reasons lately, it undoubtedly has been Bollywood’s darling location for film shoots for many decades. Little wonder visitors have already explored whatever there was to explore here. Or have they?

Here is a glimpse of hitherto less-visited places in a region that answers to the sobriquet – Paradise on Earth!

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