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Posted on: Friday , Oct 31, 2008 At 18:05 PM

Sringeri


I am writing this post from small and quiet town of Sringeri - a place made important by Shankaracharya. Though I was loathe to come here initially, am now enjoying being here.


The town is in an idyllic location, surrounded by thick forest all around it. The drive to the place took me through winding and hilly roads with occasional view of beautiful hills of Sahyadri. Early in the morning, our car broke through foggy road, via evergreen forest, coffee estates, areca farms and paddy fields, taking us through perhaps one of the very scenic areas of Karnataka. Sun broke through the fog many hours after sunrise, his rays streaking through parallel pillars of areca and silver oak that grow straight and spread wings only at their tips.


The town itseld doesn't have the urgency that any town usually tends to possess. It's spread amidst verdant undulating landscape, with green unpolluted Tunga River flowing next to the ancient Shaneeswara temple and Sharadappetha on one side, and Shankara Mutt on the other side.


The river, undoubtedly was my first love. The next position goes to ancient Shaneeshwara Temple with its beautifully tapering gopura outside and finely carved pillars inside. I have much more to explore here, and if not explore, simply be in the middle of nature doing nothing more than feeding the plentiful fish in the river and dipping my feet into its flow.



But here, being on a low-bandwidth wireless dial up also means I am right now unable to research on the festivals for November and inform my readers in advance. But I shall do that the first thing I am back, in next few days. In the meanwhile, don't forget, if you are in the south, to visit Hampi Utsava from 3rd to 5th November.

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Posted on: Tuesday , Oct 28, 2008 At 12:20 PM

Destination Guide: Badami, Aihole And Pattadakal


The town of Badami, along with small nearby villages of Pattadakal and Aihole are a hub of ancient architecture of Karnataka. Turn every corner and you will see a finely carved temple built from sand stone.



Overview. The region around Badami is rich with architecture dating as far back as the 8th century. Chalukya and Rashtrakoota dynasties that ruled this region on the bank of Malaprabha river have built many Hindu, Jain as well as Buddhist temples on the plains and rocks of these parts. Summers can be hot in these parts; best time to visit is from November to February.



Orientation. Badami is a small town with some tourist accommodation. The cave temples and other places to see in Badami are a short walk out of the town. Banashankari, a small village just outside Badami is known for its temple and the annaul fair. Pattadakal and Aihole are 30 minutes to one hour away from Badami. Buses and rickshaws are easily available for the commute.



Sightseeing and Activities



Cave Temples and Agastyamuni Lake. Badami is most well known for it's cave temples. There are five temples built on a fine red sandstone rock, which have carvings of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain heritage. The place is in a beautiful sight facing Agastyamuni lake.


Agastyamuni Lake


The hill opposite to the caves has many temples that is approached by a beautiful passage formed by depression in the rocks. There is a Shiva temple on the top of the hill. Just beyond the hill is Malegitti Shivalaya Temple. You can see the panorama of the lake and the cave temples from the top of the hill. At the base of the hill is a small museum maintained by Archeological Society of India. At the far end of the lake is the beautiful Bhoothanatha Temple.


Cave Temples



Pattadakal has a complex of temples on the bank of Malaprabha river. Pattadakal, along with Aihole has the unique distinction of being the only place where you can see a mix of northen rekhanagar style architecture along with southern dravidian structures. Galaganatha temple is a fine example of Rekhanagar style build of temples, while the Virupaksha temple, one of the largest in the complex is built in dravidian style.


Pattadakal

Aihole once hosted a school of architecture where students from all over India came to learn. It is often called the cradle of Indian Architecture, where many styles got evolved and refined. It is for this reason that one can see temples that confirm to no style, each different from other, can be easily seen spread all along the village. Durgi Gudi, Lad-Khan Temple, Huchhimalli temple and Ravanphadi are some of the important temples in the village.


Pattadakal

The village of Banashankari has a small temple and a large tank in front of it. It is more known for its annual fair which attracts large number of people from nearby towns and villages. Mahakoota is another place with an ancient temple complex inside a leafy area. A perennial spring emerges from the complex and is said to be holy. The beautiful temple complex is worth a visit.


Mahakoota



Food and Accommodation. Only Badami has some reasonable food and accommodation available. Use Badami as base to travel to Aihole and Pattadakal.



How to Reach. Badami is approximately 500km from Bangalore. Direct Buses are available. Nearest large towns are Hubli and Gadag. Hubli is well connected from rest of the country by trains.

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Posted on: Tuesday , Oct 28, 2008 At 11:22 AM

Travel Alert: Hampi Utsava


The annual Hampi Utsava is scheduled on November 3rd this year.


Hampi Utsava is a government sponsored program held on the first week of November every year, consisting of various programs involving local culture, folk tradition as well as performance by artists from all over the country.


Hampi is brightly lit up with various stages and exhibitions every year during the fest and is a treat to the visitors eyes. Do keep in mind though, most hotels in the region get completely booked for the duration of three-day festival. Here are some images from the festival two years ago.


Hampi Utsava Stage


Viroopaksha Temple

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Posted on: Saturday , Oct 25, 2008 At 13:00 PM

Airports And User Development Fees


The new greenfield airports in Bangalore and Hyderabad had been pushing for User Development Fees, and were hoping to impose it in the coming months.


Now, a parlimentary committee headed by Sitaram Yechuri has recommended against UDF. The committee says not to impose UDF, and remove them from all airports where it is currently active. How-ever, it still may not mean much, since the fate of committee recommendations may or may not lead to anything.


UDF would have kept more people off airports in a time when people are already opting for trains owing to high airfares.


But the recommendations of the parlimentary committee do not come as a surprise. Headed by a communist party leader, naturally they want all airport developments in the future to be done by Airports Authority of India instead of private parties!

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Posted on: Friday , Oct 24, 2008 At 10:36 AM

Arunachal Tourism


Until recently, getting information on places in Arunachal Pradesh was a hard job. There is plenty of information available on much travelled places like Tawang and Itanagar, but beyond that, scouring the internet would have resulted in little information. Places like Along, Zero are rarely visited. And there are not many internet savvy travel agents who operate in these regions. So the only way to get any information was by contacts and people who have already been there. Arunachal Government did not have any useful info on destinations in the state.


Now, things seem to be changing. The state government woke up to the potential a few months back. They have opened up new areas for tourism and sprucing up their system. One helpful addition in the recent days is their new professionally designed website. It has a compilation of destinations and accommodation, which will be very useful for people travelling in the state. What comes most handy is the contact number of hotels and guesthouses, which is not easy to find anywhere else.

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Posted on: Wednesday , Oct 22, 2008 At 19:23 PM

Travelogues That Make A Good Read


Remember India Discovered contest run by oktatabyebye two months ago? There was a travel writing contest running for six weeks with weekly winners and a mega-winner.


Today evening, I was browsing through the site looking for interesting things to read, and stumbled across those travelogues again. I had been planning to read them for a while but never got around to doing it. I read a couple of them today and was impressed with the quality of content we have had there.


Some really interesting travelogues covering length and breadth of India. I have started with the list of short-listed entries and winners, and planning to go through them one per day for the whole of next month. Yes, there are exactly 31 shortlisted stories that can take me through a month. 31 minus one actually, one story that I had submitted. If you love reading travel stories like I do, this is where you should be heading.

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Posted on: Tuesday , Oct 21, 2008 At 19:15 PM

Solar Powered Cycle Rickshaw


There is news about Solar Powered Cycle Rickshaws being unveiled in Delhi. It is built by CSIR and is said to do 15km per hour. Its usage would currently remain limited to Chandni Chowk area, since a charging station is installed near Chandni Chowk Metro station to begin with.


Its a move in a good direction, but I get a few questions about getting them on the road. Would the current rickshaw owners be able to afford a new solar powered ones? Most of them would be struggling to meet their daily food bills and would not be able to buy an expensive alternative.


It is also touted as an environment friendly alternative to the existing ones, which seems untrue. The rickshaws will only replace cycle-rickshaw and not auto-rickshaws, so the question of pollution did not exist in the first place. With the charging station at Chandni Chowk and a max speed of 15kph, these new rickshaws also would not be able to ply long distances and will not be capable to replace auto-rickshaws or taxis.

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Posted on: Monday , Oct 20, 2008 At 12:13 PM

Air Travel In Near Future


It is visibly turbulent days in Indian Aviation Industry. Rivals Kingfisher and Jet have joined hands, Air India is looking at the government for a bailout and smaller airlines are struggling. What are we up to?


We may have to live with higher prices as the competition comes down, and the industry leaders don't have to think twice about upping prices. 


The smaller airlines may have a tough time. They may not be able to sustain long streaks of loosing money. Either they would have to resort to Jet-Kingfisher type of deals with other airlines, go for mergers or go bankrupt altogether. Those who try to go alone may not last. That only means less number of airlines, less aircrafts on the skies, less competition and higher prices.


The ray of hope comes from reducing fuel prices and improving airport infrastructure. Crude prices are at almost $30 below the peaks, and with a worldwide recession, are unlikely to climb back any soon. Better infrastructure in all major airports - Hyderabad, Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai means airlines waste less fuel circling or waiting, and can utilize their fleet more efficiently. SpiceJet has already removed congestion levies.


The one thing that should worry large airlines majorly is considerable reduction in business and international travel post US meltdown. A solution to this may have to wait till the bailout money invested from US Fed trickles into the economy.

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Posted on: Friday , Oct 17, 2008 At 19:06 PM

Destination Guide: Jaipur


Winters is approaching, making it a good time to visit the desert state of Rajasthan. The easily accessible state capital of Jaipur has several forts and historical structures worth seeing.

Overview. The buildings of the walled Old City of Jaipur are all painted pink, giving it the name 'Pink City'. Jaipur is also said to be the only planned city in India when it was built. The city is best visited in the cooler days of November to March, when seeing places is not a sweaty affair.

Gates of Old City

Orientation. Most of the ancient structures of Jaipur are located around City Palace in Old City. The new city is the modern sprawl of Jaipur to the west of Old City. The two well known forts are both outside the city: Nahargarh fort is on a hill overlooking Old City while Amber Fort is a 20 minute drive from the city.


Sightseeing and Activities


City Palace. The City Palace was built by Sawai Jai Singh in early 18th Century. The Diwan-i-Am and Diwan-i-Khas are the most prominent structures inside the palace. The four-season gates have beautiful paintings of peacocks representing each of the season. The descendants of the kings still live in the palace in 7-storey tower of Chandramahal. The palace has a arms museum with a large collection of ancient firearms, and another museum with artifacts belonging to the royals. An art gallery has a vast collection of carpets, paintings and metal artifacts.


City Palace


Jantar Mantar. Right next to City Palace is Jantar Mantar, an astronomical observatory built by Maharaja Jai Singh. It looks like a clutter of odd shaped buildings at first sight, so take a guide to understand each one of them.



Hawa Mahal. Hawa Mahal is a building that epitomizes Jaipur's ancient structures. The tall pink building has always been a part of brochures telling about Jaipur. Overlooking a wide main road, this building was once used by women of royal families to watch festive processions of the city.


Hawa Mahal


Nahargarh Fort. Nahargarh Fort, built by Maharaja Jai Sawai Singh in early 18th century, also called Tiger Fort, is located on a hill overlooking the old city, and offers panoramic views of Jaipur.


Amber Fort. The large Amber Fort is located outside the city on the top of a hill, and is surrounded by hills, with beautiful views. A large tank in front of it adds to the beauty. The interiors, with spacious Diwans and living quarters are a must see.


Amber Fort


Gaitor. Just outside the Old City, this place hosts the cenotaphs of the rulers of Jaipur and their descendants. The structure is entirely built of Rajasthan Marbles and has some beautiful carvings. The marble Chhatris of Gaitor with Nahargarh fort in the background are a great sight.


Gaitor


Jal Mahal. On the way to Amber is this curious place built in the middle of a lake. It is interesting to see a few trees that have grown over the palace and have overshadowed the structure.


Jal Mahal


Food and Accommodation.


There are plenty of budget hotels, guesthouses and restaurants all around Jaipur. Rajasthan Tourism promotes home-stays, and you can inquire at their office for addresses of approved home-stays. Hotels of every budget are easy to find it the city, but most premium hotels are located outside the town. Not to miss is the resort at Chokhi Dhani which has Rajasthani cultural evenings every night and has excellent local food. Also visit the Om Hotel, where a revolving restaurant gives you panoramic views of the city.


How to Reach.


Jaipur's train station and airport have direct access from most of the major cities. You can also take a bus or drive down from Delhi(7 hours).

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Posted on: Wednesday , Oct 15, 2008 At 18:28 PM

Manali - Leh Highway To Close On November 1st


Border Roads Organization has announced that they will be closing Manali-Leh highway on November 1st. The release from BRO says that they will not be able to carry out any maintenance and rescue activities on the road after October 31st.


The highway had opened this year on May 13, serving tourists and supply trucks for army and the Ladakhis. Bad weather had resulted in temporary closures twice in September, resulting in speculations of early closure this year.


From November onwards, the road will remain closed till next summer, for approximately seven months. BRO starts clearing snow from the roads in February and makes it ready for full fledged operations usually in the later half of May.

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Posted on: Wednesday , Oct 15, 2008 At 07:55 AM

Indian Railways Goes To Srinagar


The train to Srinagar was one of the well covered events in the recent days. I was thrilled to see all those images in the front pages. It was a pleasure to see pictures of people smiling, posing through the windows of the train with joy and filling up the coaches with excitement and giggles.


India has a long heritage of mountain railways since the days of the British who connected Delhi with Shimla, and Darjeeling with New Jalpaiguri. Srinagar is a new feather in the crown. 


The train travels from Srinagar to Anantnag twice daily in what is said to be a very scenic route, letting people into views of locations in Kashmir that were earlier not seen from the road. The train looks plush, comes with heating to beat the weather and has a system to beat snow. I am looking forward to make this journey some day!


AFP has a few images of the train.

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Posted on: Wednesday , Oct 15, 2008 At 01:29 AM

Airports And Internet


I was on my way to Delhi from Bangalore last week, and had carried my laptop for a change. It was a pleasant surprise to see Wi-Fi in airport lounge, and felt good to figure that the usage is for free. I then almost took it for granted that every major airport would have Wi-Fi. After all, a lot of people flying will be business travellers and would be delighted to be able to use their waiting time optimally. 


But it was a surprise on my way back. As I waited in Delhi for my flight to arrive, I turned on the laptop and scoured for Wi-Fi. But I was disappointed - Delhi airport did not have Wi-Fi.


It is a bit surprising to me that one of the most important airports in the country does not offer internet to passengers. It doesn't have to be a free connection; even a pay-and-use one would be just fine and helps people use their time optimally. It's time for the authorities to tie up with an ISP and offer Wi-Fi internet.


Update: I read some online reports that Delhi airport does have Wi-Fi at Rs.60 per hour. May be it was a temporary glitch when I was there, or the terminal I was in was not a Wi-Fi hotspot.

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Posted on: Monday , Oct 06, 2008 At 18:37 PM

Armchair Travel - World Heritage Sites


Browsing through the web, I stumbled upon this interesting website which has a compilation of images from World Heritage Sites from all over the world.


You can select a site by region, click on it and watch a flash movie give you a panoramic perspective of the site. There are some controls that help you change the angle of view and the zoom level, all which are meant to give you a feel of you being there and watching the site. Looks like some good technical work has gone into creating it.


Right now, I am sitting in front of my laptop and travelling to Agra, admiring the beauty of Taj. I won't go all out and say it is a brilliant work that gets you hooked, but is a definitely interesting compilation, and is a good way to know what these world heritage sites look like.


The list is not complete though, and right now they have only 25% of the place covered.

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Posted on: Monday , Oct 06, 2008 At 14:18 PM

Luxury Train In Punjab


The Indian Railways seems to be busy launching luxury travel experiences one after another.


A year ago they launched a rather plush train - The Golden Chariot in Karnataka. This august came yet another luxury train in Rajasthan besides the existing Palace on Wheels, called Royal Rajasthan on Wheels


The latest offering comes from Punjab, a luxury train covering Agra, Jaipur, Chandigarh, Amritsar and Dharmashala. 


In another train related news, Indian Railways has a new and remote destination - Agartala - where the train services have begun from Sunday. Though the railways cover the plains of India extensively, I never thought they will manage to get as far.

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Posted on: Wednesday , Oct 01, 2008 At 15:57 PM

Festivals For October


October is the month for festivals, the very first day beginning with Id-Ul-Fitr and Dasara.


Dasara/Navaratri. Celebrations are plentyful in many places in India. Mysore is the place to be, in the south. Head to Gujarat for Navaratri celebrations, and Durga Pooja in Kolkata.


Marwar Festival. A celebration of dance and music held in Jodhpur's Mehrangarh Fort in memory of heroes of Rajasthan. Falls on 13th and 14th October.


Rajgir Dance Festival. Held in Rajgir, Bihar from 24th to 26th October. Another music and dance festival, organized by tourism department of Bihar.


Diwali. Held on the 28th all over the country, not much needs to be said about this; celebrations go on for the whole week.

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