Monthly Archives: July 2011

Delhi

New Delhi is not exactly a weekend getaway, but is definitely a fun way to spend it!

I have been here a few times, and have decided to give some of the places that I found were worth the visit!
Also let me mention here that there is a lot more to Delhi that what I have mentioned here. These are just the places that I have visited.

The best way to get around major places in Delhi is by the Metro. Its clean, prompt, safe, and very cheap! The initial visits to Delhi had been by cab. Mostly we took an all-day service, to go wherever we wanted. Since Metro stations have come up in Gurgaon, going to Delhi has been so much easier. Within areas, one can opt for the auto-rickshaws or the ubiquitous cycle-rickshaws.

  • India Gate :
    India Gate of Delhi is 42m high, situated at Rajpath, New Delhi. India Gate is also called All India War Memorial, because it was made in the memory of 90,000 soldiers, who fought for the British Indian Army during WWI. It was built in 1921 and was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens . Amar Jawan Jyoti (Flame of the Immortal Soldier) is situated under and arch of the India Gate, and has been kept burning since 1971. This is dedicated to the Indian soldiers who were killed in Afghan War in 1919.
    India Gate is also a popular picnic spot. Families and tourists alike gather here in the evenings, esp on weekends.
    This is also an important part of the Republic Day Parade. The Parade starts from Rashtrapati Bhavan and passes through India Gate to reach Red Fort.
  • Qutub Minar 
    Qutub Minar is a tower that is, along with other medieval structures, located within the Qutub Complex. Its foundation was laid down by Qutub-ud-Din Aibak but was completed by his son-in-law Iltutmish and further added to by Firoz Shah Tughlak. Qutub Minar was built in 1193 A.D. Built in red and buff sandstone, the Qutub Minar is the tallest tower in India. It is 72.5 m high and has 399 steps leading to the op.
    Qutub Minar is honored as one of the earliest and most prominent examples of Indo-Islamic architecture. Qutub Minar has five distinct storeys, each with a distinctive style of architecture. The first level was built by Qutub-ud-Din Aibak, the next 3 by Iltutmish, and the final storey by Firoz Shah Tughlak.
    The purpose of the Minar has never been very clear. However, it is though to be used for calling people to prayer. But the minar is so tall that one cant hear the person standing on top.
    Apart from Qutub Minar there are many more historic complexes in Qutub complex. Among othe structures, some buildings within the complex are:

    • Tomb of Iltutmish: Tomb of Iltutmish was built in 1235 AD with red sandstone.
    • Alai Minar: Alai Minar was started by Alaud-Din-Khalji. It stands north to Qutub Minar. Alai Minar is 25m in height, and remained unfinished due to the death of Alaud-din Khalji. It was meant to be double the size of the Qutub Minar.
    • Quwwat-ul-Islam: Quwwat-ul-Islam is a mosque constructed by Qutub-ud-din in 1198 also stands in the Qutub complex.
    • Iron Pillar: Iron Pillar is 7m in height and has been made up of 98% wrought iron. This is pillar has remained uncorroded though time. The inscription at the pillar is dated at around 4th Century AD, and was erected as a Vishnudvaja (standard of Lord Vishnu). There is, however, a legend that states that the person to can wrap both arms around the pillar will have his/her wishes fulfilled. Hence, the Govt of India has fenced it off due to the corrosive nature of sweat.
  • Red Fort 
    Red Fort, also known as Lal Quila, was built by Emperor Shah Jahan. The foundation of Red Fort was laid down 1639 and it was completed in 1648. The total covered area by Red Fort is around 2 km. It is the biggest monument in Old Delhi.
    Red Fort has two important entrances, the Delhi Gate and the Lahori gate. Red fort also has three more gates which remains closed now. The main entry point of Red Fort is Lahori gate. Beyond the gate, there is a roofed passage, flanked by arcaded apartments leading to the palaces, known as Chhatta Chowk. These apartments are now being used as shops. The shops here sell mostly trinkets and handicrafts, but one can get a good deal if you know the art of bargaining! 🙂
    Red Fort, a World Heritage Site, is the most visited places in Delhi by tourists and local people alike. However, now visitors are allowed to visit only some areas of Red Fort. Most of the areas within the fort are closed off to public. The important buildings of Red Fort are Diwan-i-Am, Hamam, Moti Masjid, Mumtaz Mahal. However, these are not maintained either. Most of the inlays are missing, having been stolen by vandals and thieves. The elaborate fountains on the grounds are unused and dry. Every evening there is a sound-and-light show. However, we were quite put off by the sight of the fort being so badly maintained, and did not wait for it to start.
    Red Fort is also the venue from where the Prime minister of India addresses the nation on 15th August, Independence Day.
  • Lotus Temple
    Bahai House of Worship is one of the most beautiful temples of India. This temple is about 40m high. It is better know as the Lotus Temple as it is built in the shape of a half-opened Lotus flower.
    Lotus Temple is situated in the south area of Delhi. The exact location of temple is Kalkaji, New Delhi.  It was completed in 1986. The complete structure of temple contains 27 giant white marble petals and nine pools. The petals of the temple shows unifying spiritual paths of the Baha’i faith, which believes in oneness of all religions and mankind.
    This temple is open for all religions. People from all around India visit here. Most important is that, this temple is visited by number of tourists everyday. As a holy temple, it contains Prayers four times a day. During these sessions Prayers of all religions take place there. Prayer timings in temple are as follows:
    10:00AM to 10:15AM
    12:00PM to 12:15PM
    3:00PM to 3:15 PM
    5:00 PM to 5:15 PM
    When one steps inside, one is requested not speak, and instead meditate on God. One can sit there for however long one wishes. The whole temple is is well-maintained, and the gardens are a delight to look at.
  • Akshardham
    The Akshardham temple, or Swaminarayan Akshardham as it is also called, is a beautiful structure made of pink sandstone and white marble, with no use of steel or concrete. The structure is a mixture of architectural styles from across, and with 7ooo carvers and over 3000 volunteers. It is situated on the banks of the Yamuna river, and adjacent 2010 Commonwealth Games Village.
    Recently The Readers Digest magazine voted the Akshardham among the “Seven Wonders of the 21st Century”.
    The temple has very high security, and one has to deposit all their phones and cameras before entering. The security check is very strict, and efficient.
    At the time we went, there was a lot of renovation work going on. So we were able to enjoy the grounds, but not the main temple. However, the base of the main temple is a work of Art. Called the Gajendra Pith, it features elephants and their interaction with Nature, Man & the Divine. No elephant is replicated. So each of the 148 full-sized elephants are unique in their presentation.
    The other aspect of the complex is the Hall of Values, Neelkanth Darshan (a movie of the child-yogi Neelkanth  Varni shown on a giant screen), and a boat ride. There is a charge here os Rs. 125/- per person to view these.
    There is a yagna-kund that can be seen once you step out of the boat-ride exit. This is the venue of a musical fountain show every evening. Since we did not stay that long, we did not get to see this.
    On our way back we stopped at the canteen for lunch. The meals served are mostly Gujarati, with some other North-Indian dishes also. The costs we felt were reasonable, and the food was definitely good!
    On the way to the next, there is a shop selling memorabilia. We picked up some cell-phone pouches which were made with silk and had some nice embroidery on it, and found that it cost us only Rs. 20/-!! Other handicrafts originating from the Gujrat region can also be found here at very good rates.
    We spent about 3 hrs within the complex, and hadn’t even seen the main temple. But the grandeur and scale of the artistic work on the temple is a definite must-see in Delhi.
  • AP Bhavan Canteen
    Based in a nondescript corner of Andhra Pradesh Bhavan on Ashoka Road, the canteen is by far one of the best places to have South Indian food in North India! The first time we went there, I was taken aback by the sheer crowd of people still waiting to be seated. But it didnt take too long for us to get seated. The meal itself costs only Rs. 110-/, and is an unlimitied thali. You can also order for some non-veg side dishes or biryanis. The service is fast, and the food is hot! On the table, gongura pickle is kept along with ghee and various podis that one can have with rice. The servers are polite, and are quick to serve any of the dishes you ask for.
    Once the meal is done, you can buy a meetha paan at the counter for Rs 5/-.
    If you still crave for more of AP, you can step out to the roadside stalls near the main gate of AP Bhavan. here you can get a variety of items from AP: magazines, pickles, DVDs, snacks and even coffee powder and idli rava if you wish. 🙂
  • Palika Bazaar
    Palika Bazaar is an underground market located between the inner and outer circle of Connaught Place, Delhi, India. Palika Bazaar hosts 390 numbered shops selling a diverse range of items; however, the market is dominated by electronic items and clothing. Palika Bazaar was set up in the late 1970s, but since the 1980s it has seen a decline in customers, in part due to the opening of several new, modern shopping malls all over Delhi.
    Palika Bazaar is estimated to have some 15.000 people within its confines at any given time and also attracts many foreign tourists. It is known as a place with a very low level of prices. But one has to be careful not to be conned, as an equally wide variety of fakes are also available here.
  • Chandni Chowk

    Ram Lila procession at Chandni Chowk

    This is one place that I visit time and again. Chandni Chowk is a shopoholic’s and foodie’s delight.
    Chandni Chowk itself is the main street facing the Red Fort’s Lahori gate, and is a part of Old Delhi. Apparently, in the past, the road was lit by fountains and a canal that ran through the center of the street. It was named so for the moon reflected in the canal and fountains. It was originally built by Shah Jahan for his favourite daughter Jahanara, who is also creditied for designing this market. Today none of the original vistas remain, but it is definitely a bustling market still.
    The most imposing first glimps on stepping out of the Metro station is the Gurudwara Sisganj Sahib. Standing in front of the Gurudwara, you can see the Red Fort to your left, and the market to your right.
    We normally turn left to reach the Old Famous Jalebiwala. The jalebi’s served here are fresh out of the pan, and are deliciuos to taste! It is also the beginning of a lane that sells a lot of silver and costume jwellery. The designs are unique and tempt one to buy.
    Normally we skip this part, and go across to the main markets which sell clothes. There is a huge variety of shops here for clothes. you can opt for designer shops (which come with designer prices) or regular shops which sell some pretty nice stuff, or the wholesale markets which sell clothes at a steal!
    Once shopping is done, and the jalebi’s digested, we head to the Gali Parathe Wali, or the Lane of Parathas. This lane, as the name suggests, boasts of restraunts that have been around from the 1870s. The decor of the shops features pictures of polical leaders of the past, and film stars who have had food there. 🙂 The parathas served here are unique in taste and texture, and is normally acccompanied with a jumbo glass of lassi topped with a thick layer of cream. A gastronomical delight for sure, and a dieter’s nightmare!!!
    You have a wide choice of what type of paratha you want, the most basic being the aloo paratha, mirchi paratha made of green chillies for those who can eat raw green chillies (not me!), or a choice of dry fruits paratha for those who want something different. If you take a plate, you have to eat at least 2 parathas. So you see many people who opt for only 1 plate per couple, and share the food. The sabzi and chutneys served with the parathas enhance the flavours. A definite must-try for all visiting Delhi.

Categories: Delhi, Rajasthan, NCR & UP | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Kanchipuram

Bangalore – Kanchi – 2 day trip (June 2011)

This is the latest trip we’ve taken up, and I thought it would be good to put this in right away (well, almost).

We left on Sunday evening by the 10.30pm Rajahamsa bus from Bangalore to Kanchipuram. The bus left from the Shantinagar Bus Stop, and reach Kanchi Bus stop by about 5am. This was a bit later than our last trip, where we had reached Kanchi by 4am. In all the trip was quite uneventful, but comfortable.

At the bus stop, quite a few auto guys tried to get our attention. We even considered calling the auto guy from our last trip, Karthik. But one guy started speaking to us in reasonably good Telugu (which was a surprise). Also he was talking about charging a reasonable amount, which is always good news! So we decided to go with Muthu, the driver, for this trip.

Another important facet of Kanchi has been the Hotel Booking. Both times we opted for Hotel Jayabala International, the only other choice we wanted from MM Hotels. The booking process is extemely simple: call the hotel, check for room availability, give your name and number for booking. Consider it done. Unlike other places, the hotel doesnt ask you to send them any advance amount.

Also an important consideration is that it is attached to Saravanaa Bhavan, one of the best South Indian Eateries in India.

We started the day with darshan of Kamakshi Amma. There wasnt much of a crowd there, so it was easy enough of complete the darshan and archana.

We also wanted to sit for the abhishekam the next morning, so we approached the priest who was taking the details for archana. He directed us to the Gayatri Mandapam located behind the deity. Men cannot enter the mandapam with their shirts. So, after the men doffed their shirts, we were all directed inside to see the deity. The space outside the Garbha gudi or sanctum sanctorum is where the devotees are asked to be seated during the time of Abhishekam. After sitting here for a few minutes, we were asked to return outside. The priest who initially spoke to us then introduced us to another priest who was apparently in charge. After taking down our names and details, he directed us to return the next morning at 5.30am.

After this we went across to the Ekambareshwar temple. The darshan was really good. On the way out from the inside temple, there was a small temple of Vishnu. It is considered to be very auspicious to worship Vishnu in a Shiva temple.

At the Mango Tree, the priest there told us about the tree, its age (over 3500 yrs old), and about the speciality of the idol of ShivaParvati there. Most idols have Shiva-Parvati sitting side-by-side. However, in this idol, Parvati is turned slightly inward, and partially hidden from sight between Shiva & Parvati is the Baby Karthikeya.

The next stop from here was The Sri Ulagalanda Perumal Temple (Vishnu in Vamana Avatar).

As the story goes, Prahalada’s grandson, Bali was a powerful asura king, who had designs on taking the heavens away from Indra. Indra then pleaded to Vishnu to help him. Vishnu took the form of a dwarf brahmin, and asked Bali for alms. Bali was delighted to offer what was asked for, even though his preceptor, sukracharya warned him that this was Lord Vishnu. Vamana then asked for land that could be covered by three steps. Bali promptly agreed. Vamana then took on his celestial form, and covered the earth with one foot, and the heavens with the other. He asked Bali where he should put the 3rd step. Bali offered his head. Vishnu put his foot on Bali’s head and sent him Patala (the netherworld).

The image of Vishnu in this form at the temple is very striking. It is about 35ft in height. The right leg is shown as resting on Bali’s head, while the left leg is raised to signify the heavens. The hands are spread out sideways. It is an amazing sight.

The next stop was the Varadarajaswamy Temple, which primarily signifies Vishnu Kanchi. The temple is buit on the Hastigiri hill. To see the main deity , you have to climb a set of steps to reach the top. After having darshan, one can touch the golden lizard, silver lizard, sun and moon images on the roof at the back of the sanctum sanctorum. There are helpfully steps to climb up, and touch these. It is said that touching the images of gold and silver lizards will remove all ill-effects of touching lizards in the past and future.

We returned to the hotel to have lunch and rest for some time.

In the evening we decided to go to Sripuram Golden Temple to have darshan of the famed Temple and Lakshmi Devi. So we took the bus to Vellore Bus Stand, and then another to the temple. The bus stops right in front, so no worries about walking further. This place is about 60-70 km from Kanchi, and there are no direct buses.

Once we entered the temple, we were directed to the shoe stand and bags stand where we had to deposit out bags and phones. Also no cameras are allowed. The first thing that struck us as soon as we entered, was how money-centric everything was. We cannot deposit our shoes directly, as everywhere else. We need to put them all into a plastic cover, which can be bought at a stall nearby. Then we reached the ticket stand. The minimum ticket per person was Rs. 500/-. If you don’t want to shell out this amount, you have to go through the free darshan queue where you have a “compulsory” waiting time of 1 hr. If you dont want to wait, then you have to shell out more money.

After waiting the requisite hour, you are directed onto a path which winds around the temple. Technically it states that the path is only 1-1.5km… but it definitely felt like 2km at least. Also there is no photo of Lakshmi Devi, or anything religious. instead you are subjected to photos and glorifications of “Shakti Amma”, the godman in charge of building the temple, and who claims to be an incarnation of the Goddess herself.

After the painfully long walk, which tired us more that the entire journey and trips to temples in the morning, we finally reached the main temple. The gold on the temple is a truly beautiful sight. The lighting in the evenings is designed to emphasize this beauty, and we were all suitably awestruck. However, on finishing the round of the temple, after which to can get darshanam of the Devi, we were quite irritated. The free queue is kept about 30ft from the Devi. You can just make out the idol in the distance. If you think others have fared better, think again. The Rs. 500/- queue saw the Devi from about 15-20ft, and only the ones who shelled out 1000/- or more got to sit close to the Devi i.e. abt 10ft away. But then, at least they got to see the Devi properly!!!

The return walk was short (thankfully), and we gladly boarded the bus back to Vellore. At Vellore, it took some time for the bus to Kanchi to start. So by the time we returned it was already 10.30pm.We called Muthu to take us back.  Saravana Bhavan closes dinner by 10pm. Since there was a gaurd at the door, we asked if we could at least get a snack, since we just got back. The staff was very gracious, and served us tiffin, even though they were all getting ready to shut down the hotel for the day.

The next day, we reached the temple at around 5am. the temple however opens at 5.30am. We were directed to sit down at the main entrance, and at the proscribed time, entered the temple for the GoPuja, or Cow Worship. After this, we weere directed to the Gayathri mandapam, and my in-laws were sent in first. The main coupld in the other groups then followed in. At the end, the rest of us were allowed in for the Abhishekam. This was truly an amazing experience. To be able to see Kamakshi Amma this closely, and the be able to gaze upon her for such a long time, was definitly a blessing.

We were then handed the prasadam. We then paid the priest who called us for the Abhishekam.

After this we decided to go to the Sankara Mutt. It so happened we were able to meet both Sri Jayendra Saraswathi Swamy as well as Sri Sankara Vijayandra Saraswathi Swamy. The assistants to the Swamys were polite and told us to come back for the free lunch served after 12.30pm. We accepted, and went back to the hotel to change.

On the way back, we stopped at the Chitragupta Temple. This is the only temple in India which is dedicated to Chitragupta, the chief accountant and younger brother of Lord Yama. Lord Bramha had created Chitragupta through the Sun God. He is also considered the AthiDevata for Kethu, one of the Navagrahas. So all vices of Kethu will also be cleared though a visit to this temple. The idol is depicted in a sitting posture with a pen in the right hand and palm leaf in the left.

We returned around 12.30. In the Mutt, you have to cross through a hall which has a placard stating that it is the temple of Sri MahaTripura Sundari. Some elderly ladies were sitting in front of the closed curtains. One of the ladies indicated that we should wait. So we did. The curtains opened for Aarti by Sri Vijayandra Saraswathi Swami.After taking the blessings from the Devi, we moved to the main section of the Mutt.

Lunch was served in a room to the back. There is a raised platform around the room where one can sit. the meal was quite simple, but satisfying. there were also tables arranged for those who cannot sit on the floor.

We returned to the hotel after this, and decided instead to go shopping. The place we prefered to go shopping was The Co-opTex shop on Gandhi road. After buying the saris of our choice, we walked back to the hotel.

We left the hotel at around 8pm after dinner at Saravana Bhavan, and the bus left Kanchi at 10pm. We reached Bangalore by 4.30am the next morning.

Categories: Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments