The largest religious gathering is to be witnessed during the triennial Kumbh Mela, in the four holy places of Nasik (Maharashtra), Ujjain (Madhya Pradesh), Prayag (Allahabad), and Hardwar. A more serene festival takes place in the temple town of the Madurai, in southern India, where temple deities are carried around the a pool. A triple deity celebration for the temple Lords Jagannath Puri, Balabhadra and Subhadra becomes a spectacular and colourful Car Festival, in which a Devotees pull three decorated wooden carts through the streets of Puri in Orissa.
Ganesh Chaturuthi – the worship of Lord Ganesh- is celebrated by the immersion of giant-sized clay images in the Mumbai waters amid prayers. Bodhgaya is a place of worship for the people of the Buddhist Faith. It is this place where the Lord Gautam Buddha attained enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree. Gaya has scared shrines of the Jains and Hindus scattered around the city. Mathura, situated on the west bank of river Yamuna is associated with the most revered of Hindu gods- Lord Krishna. Virndavan, which is famous for its association with Lord Krishna, who spent his childhood days here. Rameswaram is an island hallowed by the epic Ramayana.
A devotee who visits Varanasi is also expected to visit this place in order to gain the full fruit of his prayers. Thanjavur is another great Indian temple town. The center of Hinduism and the religious capital of Hindus Varanasi is one to most important place of work ship.
RAMESHWARAM It is situated on an island on the South-eastern tip of the Indian Peninsula. It is believed that Lord Rama bathed at Dhanushkodi, where the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean meet.
The Sri Ramanathaswami temple is curiously dedicated Lord Shiva. The name indicated that Lord Shiva is all powerful god who was worshipped by Lord Rama who was an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The important festivals are Mahashivaratri celebrated for ten days during February-March, Bhramotsavam (March-April) and Tirukalyanam (July-August).
The temple has a 3700 feet corridor which is the longest in India. The sea at Agni Tirtham is a sacred bathing ghat. Other temples in Other temples in Rameshwaram include Gandhamadhana where Rama’s footprints are found on a Chakra, the Kothandaramaswami temple, Adi jaganath temple and Koti Tirtam which is a spring supposed to be created by Lord Rama’s arrow.
MAMALLAPURAM All that remains of the great city built by the Pallava ruler Mahendra Varman in the 7th century, are some breathtaking rock sculptures and monuments on a low, boulder-strewn hill by the sea, 60 km south of Chennai. ‘Mandapams’ (cave temples), ‘rathas’(temple chariots), the world’s largest bas-relief (called ‘Arjuna’s Penance’ – 27 m long and 6 m high) and a solitary pagoda-shaped Shore Temple – all hewn out of solid granite, lie scattered in the area.
The serenely beautiful Shore Temple, dedicated to both Lord Vishnu and Shiva, now stands right near the sea and has been protected from the pounding waves by a modern boundary wall.
MADURAI (CITY OF NECTAR) -Tamil Nadu’s second largest city is synonymous with the temple built in honour of Lord Shiva’s consort, the ‘fish-eyed’ goddess Meenakshi Temple. Thousands of pilgrims from all over India visit the temple every day. The enormous gopurams are lavishly covered with multi-coloured carvings of gods, goddesses, mythical figures and animals – the biggest gopuram having more than 1500 sculptures!
TIRUCHIRAPALLI (TRICHY) – A mammoth 83 m high outcrop of rock, rising unexpectedly out of an otherwise flat landscape, and topped by a fort and then a temple – that is the enduring image of Tiruchirapalli, better known as Trichy. Dedicated to the elephant-headed God, Ganesha, the temple is reached by climbing 344 steps carved out of the rock.
Trichy lies on the banks of the Kaveri river 320 kms south of Chennai. Being in the heart of Tamil Nadu it is a convenient base for visiting destinations in the southern part of the State. Five km to its North, at Srirangam, is the enormous Ranganathaswamy Temple set on an island in the river. The temple complex is spread over a staggering 250 hectares, and almost the whole of Srirangam town lies within its 7 concentric walls! And this complex has no less than 22 gopurams, each depicting the architectural style of the times in which it was built. The tallest gopuram is an amazing 73 m (241 ft) high!
THANJAVUR (TANJORE) – The ancient capital of the Cholas, Thanjavur is 55 kms east of Trichy. In addition to the paintings and bronze icons that are made here, Thanjavur is also famous for the Brihadeeshwara Temple built by Raja Raja Chola in the 10th century. An amazing feature of the temple is that the 66.5 m high ‘vimana’ (temple tower above the main shrine) is capped by a massive cupola carved out of a single granite block estimated to weigh more than 80 tonnes.
Ranikhet reflects the very best of the heavenly Himalayas ; their lush green forests, majestic mountain peaks, exotic plant life and attractive wild life. To see nature and its elements in full harmony, the right place to be is Ranikhet.
According to a popular belief, this spot had won the heart of Rani Padmini, queen of Raja Sudhardev. She chose this scenic place to be her abode and since then, it has come to be known as Ranikhet, literally ” Queen’s Field”. At an altitude of 1829mtres, above sea level, this hill resort is undoubtedly a tourists’ paradise.
The invigorating mountain breeze, the singing of birds, the panoramic view of the Himalayas – the sights, sounds and smells leave the onlooker spellbound. During the rains, flowers sprout up every where in rainbow colours, branches of tress stoop with ripened fruits and sunlight peeping through the mist and clouds, endow an enchanting effect all across Ranikhet. As winter comes, the softly falling snowflakes cover the environs in sheets of pure whiteness.
The charm of every season is irresistible in its own right. And this is what makes Ranikhet an all season destination.
Jhoola Devi Ram Mandir » 7kms. from Ranikhet on the way to Chaubatia, known for its temples devoted to the Goddess Durga and Lord Rama.
Naithna Devi » 35kms., from Chaukhatia, 34kms. from Bhitiasan and 54kms. from Ranikhrt the famous temple of Durga is situated at a 4km. walk from Dola village.
Mankameshwar » This temple is attached to the Nar Singh Maidan ( Ground), constructed by the Kumaon regiment. Opposite the temple is a Gurudwara and a Shawl factory.
Binsar Mahadev » 19kms., from Ranikhet, on the way to Ramnagar and 2kms from Sonidant, amidst dense Pine and Deodar forests. The shiva Temples of Binsar Mahadev are a unique place for meditation and picnics.
Hairakhan Temple (Chilianaula) » 4kms., from Ranikhet is famous for the temple of Baba Haira Khan. It commands a panoramic view of the Himalayas.
Tarikhet » 8kms. from Ranikhet is a well known for its Gandhi Kuti, and the temple of Golu Devta is venerated in the Kumaon region.
Chaubatia » 10kms. away and popularly known as orchard country, commands a picturesque view of the Himalayas.
Majkhali » 13kms. from, Ranikhet, on the way to Almora, Majkhali offers a close view of the snowy heights.
Chaukhutia » Chaukhutia is famous for its natural beauty and fishing centre. It is about 54kms enroute to Badrinath.
Manila » Manila ( meaning enchanting ) is 87kms. from Ranikhet & 75kms. from Ramnagar. Manila is the seat of Manila Devi – the family Goddess of the Katyuri clan. The forest and the Himalayan view from this hill is enchanting.
Jaurasi » 6000ft., above sea level, 16kms. from Chaukhutia, Jaurasi is famous for its panoramic view.
FAIRS AND FESTIVALS
Dwarahat » 37kms. from Ranikhet, the once principal seat of the Katyuri Rajas is Dwarahat. A part from temples it is full of ancient sculptures. It is also known for its Syaldeh Bikhoti fair ( 13th to 15th April every year).
Bhikiasain » 55kms., from Ranikhet is famous for its Maha Savitri fair.
Ladakh – Kargil & Leh – Hills Areas
LADAKH – For more than two months starting May 99 the world was treated to some rare close-up views on television of the stark beauty of the Kargil region of Ladakh as it watched the Indian army pound Pakistani troops who had illegally occupied Indian territory. In the process, the little heard-of places – Dras, Kaksar, Batalik, Tiger Hills and Kargil, became household names. With peace having been restored after the ouster of the villains, you can now travel to that remote, beautiful land to discover its mysteries; maybe, even get to visit some of the places which were the scenes of fierce battles so recently!
Bounded by the world’s mightiest ranges – the great Himalayas and the Karakoram, Ladakh lies at altitudes ranging from 2750m (9000ft.) at Kargil in the west to over 7600m (25000ft.) in the Karakoram range. It is a vast maze of towering snow-capped mountains, the largest glaciers outside the polar region, and inhospitable wastes. It is a region where you hardly see any trees; where the summer temperature rarely exceeds 27 degrees C in the shade, while in winter it plummets to an average of minus 20 degrees; where the thin, clear air makes the sun even sharper than at lower altitudes. So it is said that only in Ladakh can a man sitting in the sun with his feet in the shade suffer from sunstroke and frost-bite at the same time!
Ladakh occupies an area of 98,000 sq. kms. (as big as South Korea or Iceland) and has a thinly spread population of barely 1,35,000. All habitations are along water courses including the Indus, Zanskar, Dras and Suru rivers. With an annual rainfall of barely 5cm (two inches) Ladakh depends on the snow melt for almost its entire water supply. So, the Ladakhi farmer prays for the sun to shine for watering his crops. Usually his prayers are answered, as the sun shines for more than 300 days in a year, and he grows giant sized cabbage, cauliflower and radish!
Buddhism reached Tibet from India via Ladakh and, even today, central and eastern Ladakh are predominantly Buddhist. The region is dotted with Buddhist monasteries built on the highest mountain tops, many of them seeming to cling precariously to the cliff-side. Western Ladakh is largely Muslim.
KARGIL AND LEH – Lying at an altitude of 3350m (11,000ft) amidst starkly beautiful mountains, which gradually merge into an oasis of green fields, is Leh, ancient capital and now the principal township in Ladakh. It has a population of about 10,000 and offers a fascinating glimpse of this secluded land steeped in religion. Forty kms south of Leh lies the Hemis Gompa (monastery), the biggest, best known and wealthiest in Ladakh, built in 1630. It is the site of a major annual festival held in summer to celebrate the birthday of Guru Padmasambhava. During the festival resident lamas perform masked dances in a re-enactment of the magical feats of the Guru.
Kargil (2704m), the second largest town in Ladakh, lies on the banks of the Sum river 204 kms west of Leh – virtually the mid-point on the Srinagar-Leh road. It is the junction of the ancient trading routes linking Afghanistan, Tibet, Central Asia, Sinkiang, Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh. With the growing interest in the mystique of the Himalayas as well as adventure tourism in the last few years, Kargil has grown in importance – indeed it is the ideal base from which to avail of Ladakh’s many opportunities for adventure.
TOURIST ATTRACTIONS The breathtaking harshness of the Pangong Lake, the largest brackish lake in Asia; the serene Tso-Moriri Lake, a haven for rare bird species; the villages of Dah and Biama, home to the colourful Drok-pas, a rapidly dwindling tribe of pure Aryans; and the vast, unimaginably rugged and forbidding landscapes of snow and mountain, are the popular attractions of the region.
However, Ladakh’s greatest attraction lies in the many exciting opportunities it offers for adventure activities. You can go on short, daylong treks to isolated villages or for tough mountain treks lasting upto three weeks in the convoluted terrain of the Zanskar range. River rafting options are available in plenty on the Indus and its major tributaries – easy stretches, professionally guided runs and the relatively challenging routes suitable only for well organised white-water expeditions. Popular mountaineering destinations in the region are the Nun-Kun Massif and the Zanskar Group. These have a large number of peaks over 6000 m including Nun (7135m) and Kun (7087m), all accessible from Kargil.
GETTING THERE Leh can be reached by air from Delhi, Srinagar, Jammu and Chandigarh. However, the far more exciting way of going to Ladakh is by road.
The traditional land approach from Srinagar is along the historic Zoji-la motor road which follows the ancient trade route to Leh, once the caravan centre of Central Asia; this road traverses almost the entire inhabited part of Ladakh. The other, more recent approach is from Manali (in Himachal Pradesh) along the northern extension of National Highway 21. Whichever one you take, you get to see the most awesome and spectacular sights enroute – mountain desert, amazing wind-eroded rock towers, deep gorges, or barren, uninhabited, dusty plains covered with scattered boulders in a lunar landscape. The most exciting part is when you go over the 3505m high Zoji-la Pass, when motoring from Srinagar, or the 5325m high Taglang-la (and several others), when travelling from Manali. Taglang-la is the world’s second highest motorable pass.
Caution – The lowest altitude in the Leh region is around 2750m (9000 ft). So going by road also helps you to get acclimatised gradually as your journey takes you higher and higher. When reaching by air you have to waste atleast the first day of your holiday just resting for acclimatisation, which is a must for preventing acute mountain sickness.
Shimla – Popular Hill Resort
Shimla was the most important British hill resort, prior to India’s independence. It is named after its patron goddess, Shamla Devi, a manifestation of Kali. Simla, located at an altitude of 7,267 feet, is inhabited around a crescent – shaped ridge, which is blessed with perennially cool air and amazing views. It provides superb panoramic sights of the valleys, and the lofty peaks of the great Himalaya range, on both sides. The colourful local bazaars of Shimla are sprawled over the southern slopes of the ridge.
This was the country’s focus for the better part of every year and now, it is the state capital of Himachal Pradesh. Today, its well developed facilities, easy accessibility and numerous attractions make it one of India’s most popular hill resorts. Placed in the tower ranges of the Himalaya mountains, it is surrounded by pine deodar, oak and rhododendron forests. Towards the north lie the snow covered high-ranges, while the valleys broad whispering streams and swaying fields. Within the town are a host of splendid colonial edifices,quaint cottages and charming walks. Shimla holds a variety of shopping, sport and entertainment.
PLACE TO VISIT
The Ridge : This large open space in the heart of town presents excellent views of the mountain ranges. Shimla’s landmarks the neo Gothic structure of Christ Church and the Neo Tudor Library library building are here.
Chadwick Falls : Are only really worth visiting during or just after the monsoons (July to October). The falls are 7 km from Shimla and can be reached via Summer Hill.
Jakhoo Hill/Temple : Dedicated to the monkey god, Lord Hanuman. At 2455m, this is the town’s highest peak and a vantage point for Shimla’s famous views. The summit is crowned with a temple dedicated to Lord Hanuman. The hill is full of paths and narrow roads which are enjoyable walks.
Christ Church & St. Michael’s Cathedral : This dressed – stone church with fine stained glass has a cruciform design. It is located just off the Mall, below the District Courts. This is the second oldest church in northern India (the oldest is in Ambala), Christ Church was build between 1846 and 1857. The church is one of the Shimla’s major landmarks and is renowned for its stained glass windows. You can have a look inside the church or attend English-language services every Sunday morning during the tourist season.
Indian Institute of Advanced Study : At 1983 m, this magnificent English renaissance structure was the former Viceregal Lodge. Its lawns and woodland are added attractions. Entry by ticket (nominal charge). A portion of the interior is also open to the public, except on Sundays and holidays.
The Glen : At 1830m, this is a thickly wooded ravine through which a stream flows. It is a popular picnic spot.
Annandale : Surrounded by a thick deodar forest, this large glade has an ancient temple on an edge.
SHOPPING : Like any other destination, Shimla has its own specialty to offer, representative of Himachal’s unique culture, craft and tradition. You can buy handicrafts, wood and metalwork shawls, pullovers, local tweeds, caps, Tibetan carpets and pickle, jams and squashes.
The Himachal Emporium : People interested in genuine local handicrafts must visit this place located on the (western) Mall.
The Tibetan Refugee Handloom Shop : Located on the (Eastern) Mall, it showcases local development projects apart from selling carpets, clothes and other Tibetan crafts. Besides, there are a number of private shops and showrooms selling object art and crafts.
Solan : Famous for a Brewery Unit in 1835 and still running. It is said to be the gateway to the most beautiful parts of Himachal Pradesh.
Kullu, Kangra & Chamba – Beautiful Hill Resort
KULLU, KANGRA AND CHAMBA Kullu valley has often been called the most beautiful on earth and is celebrated as the ‘Valley of the Gods’. About a km wide and 80 km long, it lies between the Dhauladhar and Pir Panjal ranges and cradles the river Beas. As you travel north from Mandi to Kullu the river roars in a torrent through the deep gorge near Aut; and soon the barren, rocky terrain gives way to the lush green valley and its breathtaking landscapes. There are pine forests and alpine meadows, gurgling rivulets and fruit-laden orchards. And the colours change with the seasons as orchards of apple, apricot, peach and cherry or wild giant, red rhododendrons and blue iris burst into bloom.
Situated at the northern end of the Kullu valley, Manali (1915 m), is famous as the ‘queen of the hill stations’. It offers spectacular views of snowcapped peaks and wooded slopes, and lies by the Beas river whose tumbling, sparkling waters add to its special magic. Manali is an ideal base for excursions to the hot sulphur springs of Vashisht and Manikaran, high altitude lakes Chandratal (Lake of the Moon) and Surajtal (Lake of the Sun)(both 4800 m), the Solang valley and its splendid ski slopes, Beas Kund (the source of the River Beas) and the Rohtang Pass (3980 m) which is the gateway to the remote Lahaul & Spiti valleys. Manali is also the start point for exciting treks and mountaineering expeditions to several nearby peaks.
Some 15 km south of Manali lies Naggar which commands spectacular views of the valley. This is where Devika Rani, the celebrated Indian actress from the days of silent movies, lived with her Russian husband, the renowned painter Sveteslav Roerich. Their house is now a gallery where some of his paintings, as well as those of his father Nicholas Roerich, are exhibited.
Further south, near the beautiful Chandrakhani Pass (3660 m) which provides striking views of Deo Tibba peak (6001 m), lies the mysterious village of Malana (2650 m). Its 1000-odd inhabitants speak a distinctly different language, have their own quaint customs and traditions, remain isolated and aloof, have their own laws and do not accept the authority of the district administration. It is widely believed that the original settlers in the village were of Greek origin – soldiers from Alexander’s army who stayed back, married local women and gave rise to this unique society.
The town of Kullu is famous for the grand style in which the Dussehra Festival is celebrated in October. The idols of the gods and goddesses from all the village temples in the valley, are carried in processions in gaily decorated palanquins to the Maidan to pay homage to the presiding deity, Raghunath ji (Lord Ram), whose idol is installed there. A fair springs up and the festival is celebrated with a great deal of singing, dancing and merriment. After a week of festivities the deities are returned to their respective temples.
The festival is also a good occasion to see the people in their colourful dresses and to buy their handicrafts – especially the famous shawls, blankets and carpets of Kullu which are traded at the fair. The soft, fine woollen shawls are made from the wool of domesticated ‘pashmina‘ goats or wild goats. The wool is collected through the summer from the high mountains where the wild goats shed their soft fleece against thorny shrubs and sharp rocks. Then the whole winter long, when they are snow bound, the locals weave their lovely shawls.
Dharamsala is the main town in the Kangra Valley which lies between the Shivalik hills and the foothills of the Dhauladhar range. Uphill from Dharamsala is McLeodganj, which was chosen by His Holiness the Dalai Lama as his home and as the headquarters of his Government in exile when he fled from Tibet in 1959. He chose it from all the places that India offered to him because it was a ‘dharma chakra’, an area blessed with a positive energy field. More than 3000 Tibetans now live here and it has come to be known as ‘Little Lhasa’. The Namgyal Monastery surrounded by a row of prayer wheels, was built after His Holiness came to Dharamsala. It is a replica of the Tibetan monasteries left behind. Visitors come there from all over the world and many report that after their visit they feel revitalised and rejuvenated in a special way.
The little town of Masroor, 15 km south of Kangra, is the site of one of Himachal’s little known treasures. Fifteen richly carved, monolithic, rock temples, built in the 8th century, stand on a hillock framed by the snow-capped peaks of the Dhauladhar range. Similar to the rock-cut shrines at Mahabalipuram in TamilNadu and Ellora in Maharashtra, these are the only monuments of this style in northern India.
Rich in wildlife including the rare snow leopard, ibex and musk deer, the beautiful Chamba Valley lies in the northwest adjoining Jammu & Kashmir. It has a splendid artistic heritage – fine temple architecture, attractive embroidered ‘rumals’ and beautiful miniature paintings.
A favourite destination for tourists here is Dalhousie (2039m) – a quaint, quiet and charming hill station with stately groves of oak and deodar and forest trails which overlook wooded hills, waterfalls and rivulets. It was established in 1854 by the British Governor General, Lord Dalhousie, and is easily accessible by road from Pathankot (90 km).
The Bhuri Singh Museum in Chamba has examples of the exquisite miniature paintings typical of this region. Bharmaur is a fascinating little town renowned for its cluster of 84 temples which are noted for their fine workmanship.