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Posted on: Tuesday , Aug 26, 2008 At 11:36 AM

Destination: Gokarna


Gokarna's beaches are slowly gathering popularity to the tune of beaches of Goa. Number of incoming tourists is increasing every year, and with more and more foreign backpackers arriving here trying to escape crowded Goa, Gokarna is getting crowded too.

Overview. Gokarna is probably only place where both pious and the hedonistic have something to look forward to. The Mahabaleshwara Temple in the town is one of the holiest in South India and is frequented by pilgrims. And there are many beaches, some well isolated, which beckons backpackers.

Orientation. Gokarna is just south of Goa, which is how its beaches got discovered. Five beaches, each a thirty minute walk from its neighbour and all separated by hills, making the picturesque place that Gokarna is. The Mahabaleshwara temple is in the center of the town, which is also close to the sea.

Things to do and Places to see

Kotitheertha. This is a large tank near the temple, and is in a quieter part of the town. Pilgrims come here to perform Shraddha Karma.

Mahabaleshwara Temple. This is one of the holiest temples in South India. So not surprisingly, is surrounded by houses of temple priests. The story behind the temple goes like this. Ravana received Atmalinga from Shiva, and was instructed not to keep the linga on the ground ever. On his way back from Kailasa, Ravana stopped at Gokarna for his prayers, and was looking for someone to hold the linga for him. Ganapathi came in the disguise of a boy, assured Ravana to take care of it but dropped it to prevent Ravana from benefiting from the linga. The place where Ganapathi dropped the linga is said to be the place where the temple now is.

The Beaches. Below is the list of beaches, listed from North to South.

Gokarna Beach. This is the longest of all the beaches, almost 7km of straight stretch of sand. It is located at one edge of the town and is popular more with pilgrim crowd than backpackers.


Kudle Beach. A kilometer of walk south of Gokarna Beach, Kudle Beach is surrounded by hills on three sides and sea on the fourth. If not for the backpacking population that crowds the beach, this would have been a paradise of sorts. But fear not, it is still a nice place, though falls short of its potential.


 

Om Beach. This is the most popular of all the beaches, and the names comes because of its shape similar to Om. It is a 20 minute walk south of Kudle. This is the last of the beaches connected by motor road.  There are a few resorts and budget hotels to stay here near the beach, but may not be operational through the year.



Half Moon Beach and Paradise Beach. These two beaches are further south by 15 minutes from Om Beach, and not very far from each other. Both beaches are much isolated, as they are not connected by motor roads and there is no habitation in the vicinity for a couple of kilometers.. The isolation makes them more appealing and worth a visit.


How to Reach. Gokarna is approximately 500km from Bangalore and 150kms from Panaji. There are direct buses from Bangalore running every night. From Goa, you can take a bus to Kumta, the nearest well connected town and then take a local bus to Gokarna. 'Gokarna Road Station', a train station on the Konkan Railway line, is approximately 6kms from Gokarna town.

Food and Accommodation. There are many beachside shanties that serve foreign backpackers in Om Beach and Kudle. Gokarna town has a few budget accommodations, 'Hotel Gokarna International' the most prominent of them. Namaste Cafe, a budget hotel on Om Beach has many rooms but often turns away Indians. Om Beach also has a few mid-range resorts. You can get South Indian cuisine in the town, but whatever food available along the beaches is prepared with backpacking foreign clientele in mind.

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Posted on: Friday , Aug 22, 2008 At 15:44 PM

Car And Bike Travel Forums


If you are a driving or riding enthusiast and also a travel bug, but often left without many choices on places to go to, or no good set of people to go with, there are a few forums and online groups that can come to your use. These are popular websites that are visited by thousands of people everyday, where people plan for new trips, share trip reports, or get information on biking and driving routes and about the automobiles. Here is a list of popular websites.

bikenomads.com  Bike Nomads has a blog which primarily focuses on technical aspects of bikes. The forum is popular, and people plan outings often. You can also get technical information on bikes, ask questions, and go through a bike wiki. There is a special section on Leh. 

bcmtouring.com  BCM Touring has info on both bike and car trips. They too have a separate section on Ladakh. You can go through a discussion forum, articles, destination guides, vehicle information and lot more stuff on bikes, cars and travel.

60kph.com 60kph is another site focusing on bikes. They appear to be more travel focused and a little less on the vehicles compared to other sites.  Like bikenomads, they too have forums, featured rides and photo galleries.

royal enfield This site is exclusively dedicated to bike trips on Royal Enfield motor cycles. It is a strong community of people who are fans of the legendary motor cycles from Enfield.

 

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Posted on: Monday , Aug 18, 2008 At 13:51 PM

Destinations: Lepakshi


Lepakshi is a small temple village, almost seems out of nowhere. It is not mentioned in glossy tourist brochures, is hard to find on the map and there are no proper places to stay or eat anywhere nearby. And yet, its charming temple from the times of Vijayanagar Empire is surprisingly beautiful and visit worthy.

Overview and Orientation: Lepakshi is no more than a small village with a large temple in its middle, which was built in the sunset years of Vijayanagar Empire. It is close to Bangalore and can be done as a daytrip. It can be visited through the year, though can get a little hot in summer days. There is not much to see in and around Lepakshi other than the temple. If you are there in winter, you can also pay visit to a small village 10km from Lepakshi where a large number of migratory painted storks come for breeding.

Things to See

Lepakshi's temple is the most prominent landmark in the village.



The temple has many oddities that bring out the charm in the structure. Its engineering is not rigid, and it doesn't confirm to strict architectural rules that govern(gopura, mukhyadwara, prangana, inner prangana, garbhagudi,..) our temples. Instead, it seems to have evolved with time by impulsively created structures, and designed on the go. In fact one of the most well known carvings in Lepakshi - a five headed serpent over a linga - is said to have been created when the artists were free and looking to do something to kill time!



There are many such oddities in the temple. Soon after you enter through the main door, you don't see a succession of doors all the way to the sanctum, but a wall that blocks your way! Another door that leads to the interiors is offset to the right. In some sections of the temple, boulders have been left as is, and parts of the temple have remained incomplete.
































To get to the history, the temple was built by Virupanna, treasurer of Vijayanagara King Achutharaya. When Virupanna was accused of excesses of spending for the temple, he is said to have plucked out his eyeballs in anguish and thrown them on the walls of the temple. Tour guides show two faded brownish stains on the walls as the bloodstains of Viroopanna.






The temple clearly shows the architectural style from the days of Vijayanagara. The walls and pillars look very similar to those in Hampi's Vithala Temple. The most well known structure in the temple are that of the linga and the serpent, a mural of Ganesha and the main deity - Viroopaksha. Intricate carvings of a series of designs on the pillars and roof rails were borrowed by designers to paint sari borders, now known as 'Lepakshi Design'. A Kalyana Mantapa, which was intended to reproduce the marriage of Shiva and Parvati in stone, remained incomplete with the death of Viroopanna, and has beautiful carvings of the couple, other gods and ashtadikpalakas along the pillars of the mantapa. The other most striking thing in Lepakshi Temple are the frescoes on the roof of inner courtyard, some of which are still in good shape and are a must see.


A kilometer away from the temple is a large statue of Nandi just outside the village, said to be overlooking Viroopaksha in the temple. It is said that the Lepakshi Temple was built in seven layers of walls of which only three inner walls remain, and in those days, Nandi was inside the temple complex. This is said to be the largest Nandi Statue in the country, which in effect probably means the largest in the world.

How to Reach: Lepakshi is approximately 150km from Bangalore located close to Karnataka border in Andhra Pradesh. Drive on NH7 connecting Bangalore with Hyderabad. Just after Karnataka Border, turn left at Kondikonda Village(note: there are no signs). Lepakshi is a 20 minute drive from here. If you are taking public transport you can take a train to Hindupur or catch one of the frequent buses from Bangalore and change to a local bus in Hindupur to take you to Lepakshi.

Food and Accommodation: There is no accommodation available at Lepakshi. It is best done as a day-trip from Bangalore. There are a few small restaurants in the village, but don't expect much.




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Posted on: Wednesday , Aug 13, 2008 At 20:21 PM

Incredible India Videos


 

We all have seen some or the other India Tourism campaigns on tv, print or on the web with the tagline 'Incredible India'. Ministry of Tourism has produced many great videos showcasing India, most of which have won many awards and have been used for India Tourism campaigns abroad. The number of such videos are many, and not all may have been used for campaigns within the country. The ministry of tourism has compiled their campaign videos and have made available on the web for any one to see. There are some brilliant videos based on various themes such as wildlife, history, landscapes and other things about India that attract the tourists. Don't miss watching them, makes you wonder if our country is so beautiful! 

Also see - Incredible India microsites with brilliant images that promote theme based tourism in the country.

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Posted on: Monday , Aug 11, 2008 At 08:05 AM

Indian Autorickshaw Challenge


Have you ever thought of crossing three states in an autorickshaw, driving it by yourself over a span of more than a week? Most of us would take a rickshaw for a hop to the neighborhood mall only as an obligation, but the queer Indian Autorickshaw Challenge makes participants spend days driving the three wheeler on India's highways.

The Indian Autorickshaw Challenge is a bizarre idea that was conceived first in 2006, and has been an annual even since then. The 2006 rally was from Chennai to Mumbai, and it was from Chennai to Kanyakumari in 2007.



This year's rally will be again between Chennai and Mumbai, going via Bangalore, Hassan, Mangalore, Goa and Ratnagiri. The rally begins on 5th august, and the registrations are already open. Keep in mind, participation comes with a steep entry fee of €1,600.00, but all the money that remains after expenses goes to charity. If you wish you could participate but don't have enough time to plan, watch their website for registrations to open for another rally scheduled in December.

 Also see: 50 years of the autorickshaw

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Posted on: Tuesday , Aug 05, 2008 At 11:19 AM

Melukote


Melukote, a three hour drive west of Bangalore is an unlikely tourist destination. There are no hotels to stay in town. And you don't see garishly expanding hotels and restaurants or new construction coming up everywhere, and neither do you see truck loads of people hogging the place in the weekends. Yet, it is a very pretty, quiet and pleasant place to visit, anytime of the year. 

Overview. Melukote is a town that is still living in history. A large number of the town's population are priests, and you see them wandering in traditional attire. The temples in the town are hundreds of years old and are well maintained and remain intact. It is a quiet, calm and clean place that has a feel good attached to it. Walking along the streets, the houses look old and you get a feel that you are living in a world centuries old. Melukote is an ancient Vaishnavite town where people worship Vishnu, and has its history rooted in the times of Sri Ramanujacharya who made this town his home. The town is known for Vairamudi festival which attracts more than 100,000 people every year. 

Orientation. Melukote is a small town. Once you get there, it is easy to go from place to place walking. It is no more than a kilometer's length, which has all the sightseeing locations within this stretch. How-ever, there are a few more places that are worth a visit but can take 15-20 minutes of driving. Most people prefer to drive from Bangalore or Mysore, as it is only a short distance.

Sight Seeing and Activities

Yoganarasimha temple. Standing on the top of a hill, this is the most prominent and most visible structure of Melukote. The ancient temple dedicated to Vishnu is reached by a series of steps, and once you are there, it offers you 360 degree vista of the plains around it.

Kalyani. This is a large tank at the base of the temple and is surrounded by small temples. The shelter around it is adorned with series of pillars which makes it look interesting. The place has been used for shooting many Kannada movies.


Kalyani as seen from Yoganarasimha Temple



Cheluvarayaswami Temple. This is the other major temple in the town which has a history of almost 1000 years, and the deity was worshipped by Ramanujacharya. Wikipedia says - "According to a legend, this metallic image[of the deity] was lost and was recovered by Sri Ramanujacharya...The temple is richly endowed having been under the special patronage of the Mysore Rajas, and has a most valuable collection of jewels.."


Raya Gopura. Past Cheluvarayaswami temple is an incomplete tower with four rising pillars called Raya Gopura. The pillars are thick and impressive and have carvings all around it. It is said to be built overnight, and with the huge pillars and stones used for construction, seems hard to believe.

Akka Thangi Kola. Just besides the Raya Gopura are ancient twin ponds called Akka Thangi Kola, built by two sisters. Next to these is an old Hanuman temple, which is now abandoned.

Thondanur Kere. 15km from Melukote is the large lake at Thondanur which is so huge that you will not be able to see its other end. The lake is one of the biggest in the region and is usually full with water, makes an excellent sight even in summers. 

How to reach. Melukote is approximately 150km from Bangalore. Take Bangalore-Mysore highway and reach Mandya. Ask for directions to Melukote once you reach Mandya town. You need to turn right in the town before bus-stand at Mandya and drive for another hour to reach Melukote. There are a few buses available from Bangalore, but the frequency is low. If you plan to take a bus, catch a Mysore bound bus to Mandya and change to another bus heading to Melukote.




Food and Accommodation. There is no accommodation available in Melukote. A few basic restaurants in the town serve simple vegetarian food. People of Melukote proudly proclaim of their specialty foods - Poliogre and Sakkare Pongal - both are a must try.

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Posted on: Friday , Aug 01, 2008 At 08:17 AM

Festivals For August 2008


Here is a list of festivals scheduled for August 2008, which can help you to make travel plans for the month.

1. Teej. This is one of the major festivals celebrated all over Rajasthan, and falls during 4th to 5th August. According to Rajasthan Tourism - "Teej is one of the most widely celebrated festivals of Rajasthan. Swings, traditional songs and dancing are the unique features of Teej celebrations in Rajasthan. Women perform traditional folk dance dressed in green colored clothes and sing beautiful Teej songs while enjoying their sway on swings bedecked with flowers." Read more.

2. Nehru Trophy Boat Race. This is the snake boat race - one of the most famous annual events of Kerala, held on second Saturday of August every year in Alappuzha. Their official website says - "The Nehru Trophy Boat Race on the Punnamda Lake, near Alappuzha, held on the second Saturday of August every year, is the most competitive and popular of the boat races... The major attraction of the boat race is the competition of snake boats chundanvallams or snake boats" Find out more.

3. Independence Day. Celebrated countrywide, Independence Day needs no introductions, and celebrations in Delhi are well known. You can see some videos of last years celebrations here

4. Janmashtami. This year's Krishna Janmashtami is on 24th August. The places to look out for celebrations - Mumbai, where groups of young men participate in pot breaking competitions, and in Mathura and Vrindavan.

 

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