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Varanasi - Divine blessings in the land of temples

........................ is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.....By Mark Twain

This is a city renowned for its religious and artistic activities since times immemorial. This city has been a cultural centre of India since several thousands of years and as per the available historical details this city is older than most of the religions in the World.

Its none other than one of the most colourful, spiritual and charismatic place in India, welcome to "VARANASI", also known as "KASHI, काशी" and "BENARAS, बनारस ". Place where temples outdo the number of people, Varanasi is one of the most spectacular and visited cities on this earth. Considered to be auspicious by the presence of "Lord Shiva" this sacred place is believed to have the power of washing away all the sins; those who die and gets cremated here is liberated from the cycle of life and death and attains " मोक्ष (Moksha)".  


Varanasi is one place where you can venture out without any schedule or fixed program and take my words you will not be disappointed while coming back. There is a glorious history associated with every part of this city. No surprise you can also find people from many nationalities getting familiar with diverse Indian traditions in the city.   

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Manali to Rohtang Pass...

Though Manali is a small place, but it is base for onward travel to Rohtang and further to Leh, as widely acclaimed Leh-Manali highway starts from here only. First thing while in Manali is to set off to Rohtang Pass. Start as early as possible, so that you get ample time to enjoy the journey and can get back to Manali before it gets too dark in the evening.

In the morning as the sun was spreading its rays from behind the mountains and the city was about to come to life, the moment seemed like the whole world to us. It was an amazing Way to Go...

Well-defined snow capped peaks, Deodar and Pine trees, will give you company on this journey.

Start with adequate winter gear to counter any onslaught of the chilling winds at Rohtang pass. There are lot of shops at the exit of the city which rent out adequate winter gears and drivers insist a lot on taking those clothes from local shops. Time taken to cover a distance of 52 km. depends on how frequent you stop to enjoy the ambience. Road is in good condition, however occasional landslides.

However mighty mountains, falling waterfalls will keep you occupied. Click after click continue to capture the opulent nature and the snake roads. make sure you carry a good camera.

Limits of vision were the mountains only and nothing else. As it is said Human will to triumph is above all, we stopped at a place full of eateries. We wondered how much efforts must have been done by these shopkeepers to open such shops at this height. This place is "Marhi" and like everywhere else view from this point was staggering brilliant, barren mountains were incomparable.


We had to stop for 15-20 minutes due to some blasting work being carried out by Border Roads organization. Landslides are frequent here, may be due to loose mountains:

At RohtangThe view was "Incredible".

As our feet are always the best option, we decided to chart the course by walking on for the summit. However now you only have to walk and trek, as gone are the days when one could have enjoyed a horse ride to scale the Rohtang peak.

Braving the winds and walking on the frozen rivers, one constantly hear the noise of water gushing underneath the frozen layer of ice. Need not worry keep on moving. There is a small stupa at Rohtang.

Snow at the top was calling us and Step by step we kept on moving and it did not took long to reach the summit, with snow everywhere around. Rightly said "View from the top is what makes the journey of 1000 steps so exhilarating". A sense of Deja Vu ---

Return journey was as usual devoid of any thrill, except the fascinating memories gathered during the day. Fast changing landscapes from hills covered with trees to barren mountains, what a diverse panorama on display here.
While coming back, you can visit or indulge in adventure activities at Solang Valley (14 km. from Manali on way to Rohtang). Enjoy view from the top in the cable car...

Or slide/ glide in the romantic slopes...

Just before the Solang Valley is the entrance for the trek to Anjani Mahadev. Around 30 minutes of trek will take you to the place where waterfall is dripping over the Lord Shiva.

During the winters Shivling rises upto 5ft. in height due to dripping water. People from far off places come here to witness this marvel and offer prayers.


Ambience and surroundings are mesmerizing and you may feel like becoming a monk and stay here forever. Trek is also equally enriching, as one has to actually cross over a stream of water. There is a small cable trolley to cross this stream.

Adventure never stops in Manali. Keep travelling Guys...

The best plans slould be kept early during the trip as one snowfall or landslide, the Leh Manli highway, which is the road to Rohtang gets closed. So when in Manali first thing to do is to head straight to Rohtang...

Someone rightly told that you have to be lucky also to experience Rohtang...


Permit is required to visit Rohtang and beyond, please use the link for applying and getting the permit http://admis.hp.nic.in/ngtkullu. 400 Diesel vehicles and 600 Petrol vehicles are allowed during the day. To return to Delhi, book a Volvo or take any state roadways bus. Prior booking is advised for both of the options.





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Garhi Padhavali - the Fortress Temple

Inspired, charged and rejuvenated after the exploits of Mitawali, it was the time to unearth one more jewel from the chronicles of Golden Indian Heritage.
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Friends welcome to "PADAWALI", a fortress temple dedicated to all the Gods (Padawali is spelt differently across various places/ platforms)

Padawali is very close to Mitawali and can be visited comfortably with Mitawali. You only have to make sure your vehicle does not run the risk of running out of fuel. Area around Mitawali is devoid of any habitation however the region around Padhavali is populated with a number of villages. This is in stark contrast with Mitawali, despite the fact that these two places are separated by only 3 Kms.
As an honorary tradition in India, Red Carpet welcome is extended to all the visiting dignitaries at the entrance. Find out yourself, a grand welcome by none other than the mighty :LIONS: on moving closer to the main structure:



At the top of stairs we found ourselves inside an ancient "Vishnu temple" with numerous delicately carved sculptures of:
  • Ram Leela
  • Krishna Leela (butter churning gopika, Krishna fighting the bull Kesi), Mahabharata ,
  • The ten (10) incarnations of God Vishnu, Samudra Manthan, Vishnu holding a conch, chakra, Gada (club) and a Padma (lotus) in his four hands and Vishnu resting on Garuda.
  • Marriage of Lord Ganesha
  • Lord Shiva dancing in the cemetery in Preta (Ghost) form, Siva flanked by four-headed Brahma and
Hundreds of other Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Roof of the temple, pillars and walls are covered with the eye catching statuette of GODS and GODDESS. In a nutshell enjoy the panorama of Hindu religion here: Zoom in on the below pictures to see more intricate details of the carvings:





According to studies, the beautiful temple is the superior of the renowned temple of Khajuraho where statues are built inside whereas in Padawali the statues were built outside the temple. All the carvings on wall, pillars are inside the temple. Like Khajuraho, this temple too, has withstood the test of time. What is even more interesting is that there are some erotic images in the temple, which is a very unanticipated/ exceptional attribute for such a temple.

Though the temple is small in size, but the charm is much bigger than the appearance.


 
As per the transcript by Archeological Survey of India and related studies this temple was built around 10th Century AD. Long time for any monument/ structure to remain intact, forget about retaining the pristine glory.

The terrace, courtyard and the assembly hall of this temple are present a true essence of ancient Indian culture. The details of the carvings inside the temple look so novel that as if this temple has been constructed recently. Surprised...









Thanks to the good work by Archaeological Survey of India, temple has been restored to its past glory. The Jat Ranas of Dhaulpur in the first half of the 18th century built the adjoining fortress which is known as "Garhi Padhavali". In local languages Garhi is known as a "Small Fortress". This area is known as Padawali because it is surrounded by several hills.
Small Fortress...??? If you have missed out the details in the first picture. Lets check again:
Structure of a fort is clearly visible adjoining the temple premises. Lets go back to the temple courtyard and continue exploring the fortress Padhavali:

The cells visible above must have been once a centre of buzzing military activities, now sports a deafening silence.

The cells and rooms in the above portion are no more accessible to general public; the witness to umpteen accounts of history can be viewed from a distance only.

While walking around we came across this wall. Arrangement of different stones in one of the wall is strange as well thought arousing. Check closely the stones are just kept one above the other and are not even plastered or fixed. Generally walls meant for forts are constructed out of homogenous stones for strength. Some of the stones have carvings on them and does not look like they were ever meant to be placed in this wall. Looks like these stones might have been once a part of some statues or temple or palace, which got ruined over the time; thanks to some restoration work are now a part of this wall. Else they would have lost forever, maybe some of the deep buried facts are still waiting to emerge out.

Go to the top and have a pigeon eye view of the fortress as well as the nearby region or better lack of it.

Which might have been once a flourishing land/ city now is a pale shadow of its Glory. This region has remained secluded for better parts of history, as a result very little information is available about the actual time frame of this temple.

According to the studies after the Naga period, the Gupta empire was established in this area. Around this region there are the ruins of several temples, houses and colonies. As told by locales more than 300 monuments of different kinds can be seen at Padawali up to the valley of Batesar.

What a trip it has been to the Gwalior region, hunting down the treasures preserved by Chambal ravines in its heart.... May GOD almighty be benevolent on me to continue these rides of life...

Read more about Mitawali, the monument which inspired the design of India Parliament house...

Lot more to go and more trips to be made in near future for unravelling some more hidden particulars about INDIAN history....




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Chausath Yogini - Mitawali Temple, inspiration of Indian Parliament house

"India is an AMAZING Land" 

With a mix of caution and thrill I took the left turn from Thekari after Morena, from here route is fairly simple; go straight for around 15 km. to finally see a direction signal to Mitawali. Though the road is narrow, but it is in fairly good condition, except for a few stretches which are being re-laid. Excitement of getting closer to Mitawali had ensured that the road condition was the last thing on my mind.
There is very less habitation on this way. Enthusiasm of exploring a new place was enough to keep me in good spirits. After driving for 5 hours, I finally reached “Mitawali” site and it was the time to climb 100 ft. upstairs to embrace the beautiful Shiva temple, situated at top of a hill.

Circular architecture of this temple is an absolute cynosure to the eyes. A circular central hall (Main temple) surrounded by small temples is a unique construction. At first glance it didn't look like a temple at all; it seemed like a university or an ancient seat of administration.

Mitawali temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and consists of 64 Yogini small temples surrounding the main Central temple of Lord Shiva. 

It was the time to thank the Gods for such a wonderful drive to Mitawali and also praying to God his for benevolence to continue my life like this. While I was thanking the GOD's, the perforated base of the central temple caught my attention. The caretaker told me that it was built as a passage for rainwater to go into a huge reservoir below. I tried locating it but failed. It must have been built with precision so as not to obstruct the beauty of the monument in any way and serve its purpose secretly. Even the pipe-like pieces on the roofs, constructed to drain the rainwater, made me hail the architectural prowess of those times. It was perhaps these smart engineering techniques, apart from the limited number of visitors, which has contributed in keeping the temple in a comparatively good state. 




Environment inside the temple is utmost peaceful, walking around in the lonely corridors is a rare delicacy. Each small temple has an image of Lord Shiva, also known as "SHIVLING - शिवलिंग". Sit back and enjoy the silence.




Outer wall of the temple is decorated with numerous images of Hindu Gods and Goddesses. 

Apart from appreciating the temple, you can also have an astonishing pigeon eye view of the surrounding areas.


Vast tracts of land, scattered habitation, not so easy life in the villages will surely take you much closer to real India, very different from India existing in big cities.

As told by locales and caretaker this temple was built in around 9th century AD and used to be a seat of education of astrology and mathematics with the use of the rays and shades of the Sun. My first guess about this place was almost bang on target. Very recently a caretaker has been appointed by MP tourism department for this temple who is doing an excellent housekeeping of this temple premises. He is also maintaining a register and regularly taking feedback from occasional visitors on how to popularise this place.

You call it a sheer coincidence or strange coincidence that structure of Indian Parliament house (Sansad Bhawan) has a close resemblance with this temple. To be honest Indian parliament house looks like hugely inspired from the architecture of this temple.

This place has been lying hidden/ forgotten since ages, so very less information is available about this place. No one can deny the fact that it must have been very majestic during its prime. Despite being situated in the vicinity of vibrant Chambal River, there is meagre inhabitation in this region. This is a significant departure from the Indian perspective; all the ancient monuments situated near to the rivers have ensured settlement of the civilizations and flourishing cities. All the ancient temples and monuments are testimony to this piece of evidence. Elderly locales told with wet eyes that "गोरे आये थे तोप लेके इस मंदिर को तोड़ने, पर तोप के गोले ऊपर तक नहीं पहुंचे। आस पास के सब गाँव तहस नहस कर दिए।" Didn't asked more, Looks like some vital facts are still lying buried deep inside the soil, waiting to come out with the passage of time. 

To be frank my expectations from this place were not so high but the experience I got of this place was beyond expectations. Whether it was the road to Mitawali, contrasting village life, un-inhabited lands and above all the Temple on top of the hill – it was proud moment for cherishing the Grand Indian panorama. Also I was rejoicing at my decision to explore this place by driving. As I prepared to return and was putting my shoes, I gave one last glance to this historical marvel and silently I wondered what had kept generations of Indians ignorant of this architectural gem.

So whenever you plan an excursion to Agra or a Get away to Gwalior, make sure you keep some time for a visit to Mitawali...believe me you will come back with more than just memories. Keep travelling. 
There are no fuel stations after left turn from Thekari, make sure your vehicle do not run out of fuel...

Please find this article published in national newspaper, The Pioneer:
There are other monuments also close to Mitawali, worth exploring:
  1. Padawali: 3-4 Km. from Mitawali this fabulous temple monument waiting is considered as superior of Khajuraho temple.
  2. Kakan Math Temple: 23 km. from Mitawali, this 115 ft. high ancient Shiva temple is assembled in stones without any adhesive.
  3. Batesara temples: 4-5 km. is a huge comples of temples dated back to 6th -9th century. Around 350 temples are estimated to exist here. Work is ongoing to restore the glory of the temples.

Keep travelling Guys…






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Spirituality Quest: Dharamsala-Mcleodganj

Dharamshala is a name or better a destination synonymous with peace, tranquil environment, spirituality, great food, home to his holiness Dalai Lama, Tibetan government-in-exile,  and above all "Teachings of LORD BUDDHA"


Situated in Kangra Valley-Himachal Pradesh, Dharamshala is easily approachable by roads from the nearest railway stations of Pathankot (85 Km.) and Chakki Bank (89 Km.). Himachal Pradesh tourism buses/ AC Volvo buses ply regularly from Delhi and it takes around 12 hours to reach Dharamshala. Place yourself peacefully in a comfortable bus from Kashmere Gate, Delhi (Maharana Pratap ISBT) and open your eyes in the morning to an altogether different world:
 

Don't worry about the shelter. There are many options to stay, suited to all pockets, choose yours:





Exuberance of nature is visible everywhere in the form of spectacular landscapes and magnificent skyline dominated by Dhauladhar ranges (Himalayan ranges). Explore with the best option i.e. on your feet by means of a leisurely walk:




Dharamshala is not only about monasteries, calm and serene surroundings. It is also home to the highest cricket stadium in India and which is perhaps one of the biggest attraction in world cricket now:
 

Watching cricket at the backdrop of the mighty Himalayan ranges is an unparalleled delicacy and a memoir worth lifetime. If somehow you feel getting bored by cricket, just turn your eyes to the other side of the stadium and enjoy the emerald Dhauladhar ranges:  
Half an hour drive from Dharamshala will take you to Mcleod Ganj (or Upper Dharamshala), a suburb of Dharamshala. En route to Mcleod Ganj, keep on cherishing the unspoiled natural extravaganza and breath taking views:




One of the much talked point near to Dharamshala is "CHURCH of St. JOHN in the WILDERNESS". Situated at Forsyth Ganj, this Church is the final resting place of Lord Elgin, the 2nd viceroy of India. As the name speaks, the church is lying unattended with no caretaker and sports a deserted and haunted look. Check out yourself...
   

Do not miss this from your itinerary. If you are scared lets proceed for the Dalai Lama temple in McLeod Ganj.
Try out rotating wheels of fortune:
Temple has also got a collection of exquisite paintings:



Being the home of Dalai Lama, Mcleod Ganj is also a home to a large Tibetan population which runs a number of handicraft shops and restaurants in the place, most notable are the incense sticks prepared by "Tibetan Children's Vilalge". Dharamshala sleeps by 8 PM, while McLeod Ganj keeps awake till late night.

Mcleod Ganj is also known for its lip smirking delicious food, do not miss out satiating your taste buds at this immensely popular restaurant Mcllo. This food joint is always crowded and is frequented by visiting dignitaries and sports persons.







Even the small joints are worth a visit or two. Four Seasons Cafe serves lip-smacking English breakfast to start with and most enjoyable freshly-baked thin-crust pizza among its wide menu. Norling, which boasts of being recommended by 'Highway on my plate' series for its delectable Chinese preparations, is not heavy on pocket too.
Apart from a nice tip, all you would feel like to leave are the empty bowls and plates.





While enjoying the nature and other delicacies in Dharamshala, its natural to forget that you have to return back too. With a calm mind and refreshed soul, but a heavy heart it was the time to return. One trip might have finished, however the quest to find the meaning of life will continue; as also preached by his holiness Dalai Lama...

Looks like the journey has just began...




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