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Posted on: Monday , Jul 28, 2008 At 11:31 AM

Images: Ganga Aarti


Along the banks of Ganga, devout people perform daily aarti to 'Ma Ganga' in the evenings. The most famous of these is in Har-ki-Pauri ghat of Haridwar. A popular aarti also happens at Varanasi every evening in Dasaswamedh Ghat. A quieter and less known aarti is performed in front of Parmarth Niketan Ashram, Rishikesh. Here are a few images of aarti from all these places.



The aarti at Haridwar is visited by thousands of pilgrims from all over the country.



Priests perform aarti in the darkness after sunset.


Varanasi


















The aarti at Dasaswamedh Ghat in Varanasi is an elaborately choreographed ritual.



































Lamps glitter in the hands of the performers.

Rishikesh






















The aarti at Rishikesh is a quieter affair and is visited by very few people, occupants and pupil at Parmarth Niketan Ashram.






















It is performed against a statue of Shiva in the middle of the Ganga.



















The aarti at Rishikesh has a feel-good and is not noisy unlike rest of the aartis. It feels good to be here, and makes you wish to come back again and again.

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Posted on: Friday , Jul 25, 2008 At 16:56 PM

Rafting In South India


Unlike in the North, where the rivers emerging from the Himalayas are perennial and flow full of water through the year, South Indian rivers don't carry much water in them for most of the year except during monsoons. They are also not as large as the rivers in the north. Because of this, adventurers who are looking for white water rafting will be left without too many options in South India. Even the few existing options do not have to many rapids, and one will have to be satisfied with occasional Grade 3 rapids at its best. Here is a list of rafting possibilities in the South.

Kali River, Dandeli. This is by far the most well known and popular, and the only programme that runs in almost all seasons. Rapids are up to Grade 3. The rafting is supported by water released by a dam upstream. See details. They can also arrange for Kayaking in the river.

Barpole River, Coorg. This tour runs only in the monsoons, when there is enough water. It is conducted by the same company that organizes rafting in Dandeli. The rapids are up to Grade 3 and 4. See details.

Sitanadi, near Udupi. The expeditions on Sitanadi happen on and off, and are not entirely reliable. The rafting stretch can be used only in high monsoon seasons. See details.

Besides these, a few companies occasionally organize rafting on Kaveri at Dubare in Coorg, and at Srirangapatna. They are more like fun rides and you don't see too many rapids on the way.

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Posted on: Tuesday , Jul 22, 2008 At 10:52 AM

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: Sunday , Jul 20, 2008 At 07:25 AM

Mapping India


 

Finding accurate maps or precise driving directions in India is never really easy. Most of the time we rely on asking people where to turn next and how far to go. Geographical Survey of India have made detailed maps of the entire country, but the only way to get those maps is to go to their office during business hours and ask for a copy. There are a few mapping services available online, but they are far from complete. Here is an assessment of the options.

Maps of India. They are one of the early birds in online map business. However, their maps are not interactive. You can get various type of maps on their website, such as district maps, road maps, railways, topography, etc. The maps are not interactive. They can be used, to some extent to chart your journey, but you would be left with a wish that you need more detailed maps.

Google Maps. The best of the lot in terms of technology. It is a great tool for charting your journey online with routes and placemarks and sharing them with fellow travellers. Their satellite maps(or Google Earth) are excellent and have very good details. However, Google Maps doesn't have detailed mapping of entire India. They seem to be working on it slowly, but right now, you will have difficulty getting details of anything but big cities. Also, search for driving directions does not work anywhere in India.

Windows Live. They have a decent degree of details of places, better than Google Maps. Driving directions can be queried between cities, however, they don't have details of driving directions within a city. It lags behind Google Maps when it comes to features.

Map My India. Map My India has the most detailed maps of any location in the country. It is also the only website where driving directions query works within the city, though not entirely accurate. They have detailed the geography to the level of each village in the country. No satellite images though. Map My India's maps are also used by Yahoo Maps.

If you are not satisfied with any of these, and need much more details and accuracy about a remote region you are planning to explore, it is time to head to nearest office of Geographical Survey of India.

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Posted on: Wednesday , Jul 16, 2008 At 10:06 AM

Monsoon Travels: Chikmaglur


Every year, the first thing I think of doing when the rains begin to fall is to head to Chikmaglur. Its hills have a magic. When it rains there, it falls without mercy, and doesn't give you any chance to escape. Umbrellas, raincoats, nothing can help you stay dry. The moment you are out, you are at the disposal of rain gods waiting to hammer you.



 











The places to see are plenty. And there is never a minute of boredom. Every time I go, I return to same places, do the same things, and stand in the same strong winds on the top of the hills and giggle at the wind hitting on my face. Visibility is always down to a few meters, sun is never to be seen and you can never tell looking at the sky what time of the day it is.































I am so used to it now, it doesn't require any planning. Till Friday evening, it doesn't even cross my head. And then suddenly a few phone calls are made, willing travellers are always there, and we are off. Early next morning, there we are, in Chikmaglur, checking into Planter's Court as always, for a few hours of snooze. There is no hurry to head out early to see places - it feels the same, be it 6am or 10am - cloudy, windy weather with a constant drizzle or a powerful downpour.

A quick breakfast and coffee from locally grown beans at 10am gets us ready to go. We are off to the hills of Bababudangiri and Mullayyanagiri. It is a pleasure driving on those meandering roads splitting the thick forests, later coffee estates, and eventually grasslands at higher reaches. There is just one car and too many drivers, a fight is inevitable. Finally we come to some kind of timeshare agreement. It is all exactly the same way we had done last year. And we know we will do the same thing in the coming years too.

The romance of Mullayyanagiri is queer. Who would think that stormy, windy, cold weather would be refreshing, lovely and delightful? But it is so. We feel like little children in a playground. We laugh, jump and make merry. We challenge the wind and walk against it, until the wind gets furious and starts stripping away our jackets. Every step is an effort, and fun. More giggles.






















A little further ahead, fun continues to follow us at Bababudangiri. How green can a place be? If you want to know, Bababudangiri is where you should be. It is green to the left, green to the right, at the bottom of the valley and on the top of the hill. No, the sky is spared from getting painted green, but there just thick fog up there and no sky. Wind acts up, makes some drama, pretending to chase the mist away and show us bits and pieces of the valley below and the sholas ahead. But that's only for a few seconds. Before we get to say 'look there...!', a big mass of low lying cloud has occupied the space between us and the vista.





























The evenings are reserved for Hirekolale Lake. In summers, the lake looks like a polished metal surface reflecting the hills surrounding it. Now it is a different story. Water level has gone up to the maximum. Its all brown and muddy, and the wind makes fast moving ripples on its surface. The beauty never dies, be it summer or rains. But the mood is completely different.





















Next morning we brainstorm on what to do. Everyone knows the answer, everyone knows where to go, and everyone has the same preference. But we need something to yap over the breakfast. And without even bothering to check where we are to go, the guy with car keys shifts the car into gear. We are on the way to Charmadi, the thickly forested road that leads towards the sea. No, we don't intend to get to sea which is pretty far, it is the forest that interests us. Wet green hills, winding roads of the hills and deep valleys. Streams running down in a hurry. Every 10 minutes we stop the car, mutely contemplate on the unbelievable beauty of this natural world in the uninterrupted rain, and the mist torn at places. Yes, predictably, it is the same places we had stopped last year, and even the thoughts are the same.























Time runs fast. It never understands when to run fast and when to go slow, and does exactly the opposite of what is desired. Evening comes even before we know that the morning hours are gone. We have to head back. And we obediently do, not knowing when is the next chance to repeat the same things. All it needs is a flash of lightning in someone's mind on a conducive Friday evening. It could well happen next week, or it may be another year's wait.


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Posted on: Thursday , Jul 10, 2008 At 09:19 AM

Books For The India Explorer - Iii


Also see the  first and second posts on books. The third in the series covers five more books that would interest the traveller.

Rain in the Mountains by Ruskin Bond. In this book, Ruskin Bond gets up close and personal about his life in the mountains and his experiences of living in the Himalayas, especially around Landour and Mussoorie. It extends as a short autobiography of his life too, but most part of the book is dedicated to his short works like essays, short stories and poems.

The Great Railway  Bazaar by Paul Theroux.  In this book, Paul Theroux writes about a journey through Asia, starting from London. He narrates his story about starting from London and travelling on trains through Europe to Istambul, and then on to Iran, Pakistan, India, Indochina, Japan and back using Trans-Siberian Railway via Moscow, Germany and Holland. Just the thought of such a journey sounds incredible.

Nanda Devi Affair by Bill Aitken. Nanda Devi affair is a book written with extensive information and travel-stories on the region around Mt.Nanda Devi. Bill Aitken writes about history of expeditions in Nanda Devi, and then goes on to tell about his own experience of walking in the wilderness and mountains around Nanda Devi.

Seven Sacred Rivers by Bill Aitken. In this book, Aitken goes on to explore the seven sacred rivers of India, as the title of the book says. The old Sanskrit slokas defines those seven rivers as Ganga, Yamuna, Godavary, Saraswati, Narmada, Sindhu and Kaveri; mythical Saraswati of course, no longer traced. The book is full of his experiences and insights of each of these rivers.

Exploring Indian Railways by Bill Aitken. Aitken found trains fascinating, especially steam engines and narrow gauge trains of the olden days. He travels through the country exploring the new and old railway systems, which takes him to some well known places and remote regions across the country. This book is about sharing his fascination to trains.

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