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EXPLORING INDIA : From Kaziranga to the Himalayas to the desert of Jaisalmer to the backwaters of Allepey to the sun baked coral beaches of Lakshadweep....A first hand account of exploring this beautiful country.



Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Unbelievable offer for Goa trip

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I just happened to come across this ad in today’s Delhi Times supplement. Two pages were full with lucrative offer for visiting exotic places. The one that caught my eye was a 4 nights stay at Goa in Hotel Victor Exotica from makemytrip.com. The price per person is Rs.10,810/- ex-Delhi and Rs.7,293/- ex-Mumbai. This is all inclusive of return airfare on Kingfisher airlines, meals, half day sightseeing with a boat cruise and the unbelievable -- unlimited alcoholic and non-alcoholic drink ! I had tracked the package tour prices to goa. This is really a steal. The offer is valid till 15 October, 2005. Interested! You can call 1-600-11-9747 or 011-26533251 or email to goodtimes@makemytrip.com.

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posted by Rupankar Mahanta at 5:35 PM | 1 comments

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Monday, September 26, 2005

Amritsar : The epilouge

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Day 2 in Amritsar
Covering the Jalianwala Bagh, Goldelden Temple and the Wgah Border in a day was hard for us tender mortals. We were totally drained by the heat and humidity of day 1 and so started late on day 2. Climate was no better the second day. We were to cover local spots and do shopping. Our train would leave at 9 in the night and so we manged to bargain for half day room rent at the hotel. We had in mind to visit the Durgiana Temple and the Ram Tirth. As the Durgiana Temple is withing the city, we started for that.

Durgiana Temple :
It was also the Janmastami day and thus the trip also served the ritual of visiting a temple for paying obeisance. This temple was started by efforts of Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya. It is built in the Golden Temple style with an inverted lotus dome. The dome here is probably of brass, not gold. Like the Golden Temple, this one also stands in the center of a large lake. Inside there are idols of Krishna and Ram. There is nothing to shower praise on the place. Being a regular feature of Hindu temples, I saw the first of the beggars in Amritsar. From the market outside we bought small Krishna idols as souvenirs.

Ram Tirth:
This is supposed to be the place where Valmiki had his ashram and where Sita gave birth to Luv and Kush after being abandoned by Lord Ram. This is one of the places in the sightseeing list of Amritsar. It was about 15 km from the city and half of the road was kutcha and in bad shape. It was dusty. Do not even think of going there in auto. A shock was waiting for us to unfold after this hard travel. It was a sight of apathy all around. There is a big tank only half of which was filled with water. We could see the old temple of Vakmiki Kutir in the distance on the other side of the tank. People living around have built modern temples to help tourist get over their disappointment. It is upto you whether you go to this temple and shell out offerings in reward for those running them. We avoided barring one or two. The sun was blazing down hard. Braving the sun, we managed to reach the main temple. Condition of the temple will make you wonder if it really is the place! It is managed by Sikhs and there co-exists a gurudwara as well. In fact, all Sikh gurus call themselves descendents of either Luv or Kush. It was quite tough to travel bare foot on the boiling tarmac of the temple complex. We still managed a complete coverage of the monuments there. There is well nearby which people believe is there since the days of Ramayana (look at the photo above). Its water is considered sacred. It looked old, but wondered if it is there from the days of Ramayana. We were told that water from this well was taken for purifying the Amrit Sarover in the Golden Temple when it was being dug. We also saw the place where Luv – Kush supposedly stopped the Ashwamedha horse of Lord Rama. There is another temple on the bank of the tank where Sita is said to have been cremated. You need to be too religious to believe all these, not like me. I am not heretic, but just skeptic.

I felt like doing a short cut to avoid the sun. But as advised completed the parikrama of the tank. We were told by the cab driver that this poor condition of the place is a result of neglect and corruption. Nothing is done by the Government or the temple management to improve attractiveness or beautification of the place. My suggestion is to avoid it. You will feel like wasting your time going there. For me – now I have been to both the places where Ramayana and Mahabharata had supposedly been written. (Mahabharata was written by Ved Vyas in a place called Vyas Ponthi located in Mana village near Badrinath. We went there in our Badrinath trip.)
So that concluded the sight seeing. But the travellouge will not be complete with some general information on Amritsar. So, here they follows --

Travelling to Amritsar:
The no. 329 Dehradun – Amritsar Lahori Passenger that leaves Dehradun daily at 7-10 pm is best avoided as it takes 5 hours to reach Saharanpur. So we had decided to catch the 2903 Golden Temple Mail from Saharanpur at midnight. Travelling by taxi to Saharnpur takes about one and half hour. (for God’s sake, hire a taxi from the taxi stand, not from the MK Travels in the Rajinder Nagar market near ONGC Colony). The train had dropped us at Amritsar at 6:30 in the morning, almost on time. While coming back we took the no. 330 Lahori Passenger that leaves Amritsar at 9 pm and dropped us at Saharanpur at 5:30 am next morning. The Golden Temple Mail leaves at 9:30 pm, but it drops you at Saharanpur at the uncomfortable hours of 3:30 in the morning. So, it is for those going to Delhi and beyond. Get off here as Lahori passenger takes almost 7 hours to reach Dehradun from Saharanpur. Buses to Dehradun are easily available from just outside the station anytime. We were home by 8 am.

Accommodation:
We then moved into a hotel named City Heart located hardy 50 mtrs from the Jalianwala Bagh memorial. It was quite hot and humid. We got AC rooms for 550 which was not a bad bargain. Hotels in this area charges higher as they are very close to the Golden Temple. Hotels further away are cheaper, but one should prefer to stay close to the Golden Temple. I saw many hotels near the Sangam cinema. The Golden Temple also runs Sarais, a kind of dharamsalas, with a very nominal charge of Rs.50/- for non AC and Rs.200/- for AC rooms. One can try for accommodation there as well. After all, it is just a matter of spending one night.

Local Traveling:
Autos are quite cheap as compared to other places. The cab that dropped us at hotel from station took just 50 bucks. For a complete day hiring of a taxi that includes local sightseeing and Wagah Border costs Rs.650/-. We hired a taxi for the trip to Wagah Border only for Rs.450/-. Next day we hired a taxi again for local sightseeing plus Ram Tirth about 15 kms away for 300/-. You can also hire an auto for local sightseeing. But avoid hiring an auto for going to Wagah Border, for traveling 60 km on auto is no fun, and also to Ram Tirth, as the road is bad and dusty. Ricksaws normally charges 5 bucks for a short distance ply and 10 bucks for little longer ply.

Shopping:
If you avoid the Durgiana temple and ram Tirth, then Amritsar becomes just one-day destination. You can even catch the Golden temple mail at 9:35 pm to come back. However, you may like to do some shopping in Amritsar. Everyone will tell you that clothes are cheap here. But we found not much difference between Dehradun and Amritsar price. On the way back from Wagah, one can buy cloths from the OCM factory retail shop that is by the main road. There is a market just outside the Golden Temple for souvenir shopping. I bought a sword, the symbol of courage of the Sikhs as a souvenir.

That’s all folks. Here are few numbers that may be of help :

Hotel City Heart : 2292282, 2554511, 2549301
Prince Taxi : 9815091104, 9814053268

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posted by Rupankar Mahanta at 2:18 PM | 2 comments

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Thursday, September 08, 2005

Wagah Border : The road to Pakistan

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What an atmosphere, what a drama! The crowd that gathered on the Indian side should not be less than 12000, about half this number were on the other side of the border. Fridays normally get a larger crowd than other days. This is the road to Pakistan. The Delhi – Lahore bus service passes through these gates. The Samjhauta Express, the train that runs between Delhi and Lahore, also passes through this border post. Over the last few years, Wagah border has grown in popularity as a tourist destination. Wagah has become popular for its ceremonial lowering of flags at the border gates every evening. I must say it was an unforgettable experience to be able to visit the Wagah border.

Wagah border is 30 kms from Amritsar city. You need to be there by 5 pm. Start by 4 if you plan to visit Atari station as well. We managed some VIP treatment courtesy our colleague Sunil whose father works with BSF. We could drove almost to the entrance. Otherwise you need walk down half a kilometer from the parking area. Part of the crowd that day went there to submit memorandum for release of Sarbjit Singh who has been awarded death penalty in Pakistan in a supposed case of mistaken identity. Crowd lept building up at the entrance to the arena. Suddenly, there was chaos and people stated running for stadiums for a better seat. There is a system in place for entering the stadium in a systematic way and gates open for entry at 5:30 pm. But all went for a toss that day. We got lost in the surge of the crowd and so did our VIP status. Though later we managed to talk our way into the VIP sitting area but it was too late for us to find a good place up in the stadium and so had to settle for a place down below. My suggestion is that try to sit on the parapets along the road rather than in the stadium and sit on the right hand side of the road to avoid the sun in taking photographs.

What an atmosphere! There are mini stadiums built for the crowds that can easily seat 15000 people. Between the arched entrances into this sitting areas on both sides of the border, there stands the two gates together, one each opening to India and Pakistan. Soon after we were seated, the BSF started playing desh bhakti songs on large speakers. The place started vibrating with shunts of Vande Mataram, Jai Hind and Bharat Mata Ki Jai from the 12000 plus strong crowd. Some kids were allowed to run with a flag to the border gate. Everyone’s patriotic feelings seem to get a new vigour despite the heat and humidity. Something similar was happening on the Pakistani side as well. BSF guards were keeping a tight control on the crowd. The retreat ceremony started at 6:30 pm just when the sun strated going down in diatant Pakistan. Everyone was asked to sit tight. The gates on both sides were flung open for the ceremony. The parades of the guards were something that really amused the crowds. The crowd enjoyed the antics of the fast march-pasts that often ended with steps of legs rising above heads and foot tapings from the steeled bottoms of the boots. This is not the normal march past you get to see. It was a nicely orchestrated drama. Both the Indian and Pakistani rangers followed almost the same routine. The flags were lowered and the gates were closed after handshakes between the guards. That bought an end to the ceremony. It was almost dark by then. The sapping humidity had left us all exhausted.

We could not visit the Attari station, as we were late in starting from Amritsar. Attari station just 3 kms from here.

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posted by Rupankar Mahanta at 10:14 PM | 4 comments

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Monday, September 05, 2005

Amritsar : The city of the Golden Temple

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The Golden Temple :
From Jallianwala Bagh we went to the Golden temple. It is hardly 5 minutes walk from the Jalianwala Bagh memorial to the Golden Temple. The weather was hot and humid. The sun was blazing down. We felt the temperature at least 5 degree higher than that of Dehradun. The marble tarmac of the temple complex was spewing too much of heat for our bare feet. Yet we were left mesmerized by the Darbar Sahib. Clad in real gold, it was shining majestically amidst the white surrounding. We have seen photos and read about the Golden temple from our childhood. It was quite a feeling to be actually there. Located at the center of Amrit Sarovar, from where the name Amritsar came, this temple was constructed under supervision of 5th Guru Arjan Dev in the sixteenth century. The construction was started in 1588 and completed in 1601. Later Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839) got the top two floors plated with 400 kgs of gold leaf. The complex is kind of a fort. All the buildings are colored in white that reflects in the greenish waters of the lake. We took a detour of the complex starting from the left side. Offerings are to be bought inside the temple complex that are available by paying 10, 15 or 20 rupees. After offering prayer at the Darbar Sahib’s main prayer hall at the ground floor, we went to the first and second floor as well. Each one of them had a Granth Sahib, but of different size. The atmosphere inside the sanctum sanctorum was very soothing and calm, quite different from our Hindu temples. Imagine, this is the most important shrine of the Sikhs yet one do not have to struggle to pay obeisance. People were going in peacefully in queues in a very disciplined way, silently offer bows their heads to the Granth Sahib and come out. Just visualize something similar in Puri or Badrinath, two of the holiest shrines of the Hindus. After waiting for hours in queues, you get lost in the crowd inside the sanctum sanctorum and hardly are able to catch a glimpse of the deity. Another situation – just stands for 10 minutes at Har Ki Pauri in Haridwar, I assure you that you will be mobbed by beggars and donation seekers. You will feel like scream and run away. I was really moved at the discipline and peacefulness of this place.

After completing a parikrama of the complex, we went for Langar. Also called the Guru-ka-Langar, it is the free community kitchen provided by the Sikhs. This system was started by Guru Amar Das. Once inside the hall, we realized that it feeds several thousands people everyday. It is open 24 hours. Even foreign tourists were seen having meal at the Langar. On our way in we collected the utensils and were returned to designated spot after finishing food. There are large number of volunteers engaged in cooking, distribution and cleaning. Nobody remains hungry. That may be the reason there were no beggars around. This Langar facility is run on donations.

We came back again in the night to have a view of the illuminated temple. We saw the ceremony of the Granth Sahib being taken to the Akal Takht where it is kept at night. It was around 10:15 pm. We were told that it is brought to Darbar Sahib in a similar ceremonial procession at 3:30 am in the morning. However, this majestic temple never sleeps and remains open 24 hours.

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posted by Rupankar Mahanta at 11:46 PM | 2 comments

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