DUNDLOD – Dundlod is a charming and peaceful village in the shekawati region. It is an ideal base for horse and camel safaris into the Thar Desert and the jeep safaris into the aravallis and the neighbouring villages. The royal equestrian and polo center at dundlod offers horse safaris, polo, dressage, tent pegging, endurance ride. The village has numerous painted havelis, some of which date back to over 200 years. The famous goenka haveli is also located here.
MOUNT ABU – Mount Abu, the only hill station of Rajasthan is in the Godwad region of Rajasthan. Undulating Aravallis on one side and semi-arid plains on the other, makes this area even more interesting. An important Jain pilgrimage centre, it is also very popular with holiday makers and honeymooners. The flowering trees and shrubs make this region a nature lover’s paradise. Not very far from here are the famed jain temples of Ranakpur. Built in the 15th century, these temples are very well preserved and attract thousands of tourists every year.
DIBRUGARH – Dibrugarh is an upcoming major trading centre and a lovely river side town in Upper Assam. This is the place where the mighty river Brahmaputra is at its majestic best. Dibrugarh is in the midst of tea plantations.
NASIK – Nasik is situated about 200 kms. from Mumbai, Nasik stands on the banks of the holy river Godavari. It has a personality of its own due to its mythological, historical, social and cultural importance. It is also the site for the triennial Kumbh Mela, held every 12 years. It is known for best quality Grapes. Temples and ghats on the banks of Godavari have made Nasik one of the holiest places for Hindus all over the World.
The hinayana Buddhist rock-cut temple and monasteries called Pandava Lena Caves are located abut 10 kms from Nasik. They are like the Ajanta Cave temples
CUTTACK – Situated on the eastern coast of Orissa,Cuttack is washed by the waters of Bay of Bengal. Being a land of antiquities, monuments and exotic handicrafts, the district earned a reputation among the travellers as early as 7th century AD. The district preserved a host of ancient monuments of different fates testifying to its glorious past. All major rivers namely Mahanadi, Baitarani, Brahmani and thier tributaries traverse the district making its soil alluvial and fertile.
GANGTOK – Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim, lies on a ridge overlooking the Ranipool River. Its name means ‘High Hill’. The setting is spectacular with fine views of the Kangchendzonga range, but the town itself has lost some of its quaint charm. New buildings dominate the urban landscape. Some parts of the town still has old 5-6 storey wooden buildings with traditional doors and window frames. It is a heavily forested region bounded by the rivers Tista and Tolung, and surrounded by the mountain ranges of Kangchendzonga, Pandim, Narsing, Simvo and Siniolchu. Mid-February to late May and between October and December is the best period to visit Gangtok. Suggested clothing include light woolens in summers and heavy woolens in winters.
Once upon a time, there were only cheap liquor bars in Gangtok. Tourists had a tough time finding a place that wasn’t swinging. Yet Gangtok had a certain illusive beauty, a gaucherie that was becoming. Today it’s all different. The bars are still in place but concrete is beginning to swamp the whole town. Hotels, restaurants, residential buildings, Gangtok is now coming into its own. Unfortunately. So should you come here just for the cheap booze and ugly facades. Yes, yes, yes. The views of the Himalayas are spectacular and the majestic Mount Kanchenjunga looms over every horizon, including the one you see through your bathroom window.
The temples of Khajuraho are India’s unique gift to the world, representing, as they do, a paean to life, to love, to joy, perfact in execution and sublime in expression. Life, in every form and mood, has been captured in stone, testifying not only to the craftsman’s artistry but also to the extraordinary breadth of vision of the Chandela Rajputs under whose rule the temples were conceived and constructed.
The Khajuraho temples were built in the short span of a hundred years, from 950 – 1050 A.D. in a truly inspired burst of creativity. Of the 85 original temples, 22 have survived till today to constitute one of the world’s great artistic wonders.
The creators of Khajuraho claimed descent from the moon and the legend behind the founding of this great dynasty and the temples is a fascinating one. Hemwati, the lovely young daughter of a Brahmin priest, was seduced by the moon-god while bathing in a forest pool. The child born of this union was Chandravarman, founder of the Chandela Dynasty. Brought up in the forests by his mother who sought refuge from a censorious society, Chandravarman, when established as a ruler, had dream-visitationnfrom his mother. It is said that she implored him to build temples that would reveal human passion, and in doin so, bring about a realisation of the emptiness of human desire. It is also possible that the Chandelas were followers of the Tantric cult, which belives that gratification of earthly desires is a step towards attaining the infinite liberation of Nirvana.
Why they chose Khajuraho, even then a small village, as the site for their great complex is also open to speculation. One theory is that, given the eclectic nature of their faith and the many beliefs represented in the temples, the Chandelas concieved Khajuraho as a seat of religion and learning, to bring together many sects.
With their decline, the temples lay forgotten for many centuries, covered by the encroaching forests, victim to the ravages of the elements. Re-discovered only in this century, restored and cleaned, the temples of Khajuraho once again testify to a past glory.
Architecturally too, they are unique, being very different from the temple prototype of their period. Each stands on a high masonry platform with a marked upward direction in the structure, further enhanced by vertical projections to create the effect of grace and lightness. Each of the chief compartments is mounted by its own roof, grouped so that the highest is in the centre, the lowest over the portico; a highly imaginative recreation of the rising peaks of the Himalayas, abode of the gods.
The three main compartments are the entrance (ardha-mandapa), assembly hall (mandapa) and sanctum (garbha griha), with further additions in the more developed temples.
Panna National Park : Panna National Park, 32 km. Away and a mere 30 min. drive from Khajuraho, spreads along the river Ken.The jungles today harbour many species of wildlife. The tiger can be glimpsed here, with other rare species such as the leopard, wolf and gharial. Herds of blue-bull, chimkara and sambar are a common sight. On the road to Panna are the spectacular Pandav Falls. Alternate picnic sites are Benisagar Dam, Raneh Fall and Ranguan Lake, now being converted into a Heritage-Hotel, and Dhubela Museum. Further away is Bandhavgarh National Park and tranquil Chitrakoot.
SRINAGAR – THE CITY OF HOUSEBOATS Kashmir’s most well known city, Srinagar, stands by the clear waters of the Dal Lake, and the rushing Jhelum. During the days of the Raj, the ruler of Kashmir let the British come to Srinagar but did not allow them to build. So they took to the water and lived in houseboats on the lovely Lake! And the houseboats stayed on to become a symbol of the beautiful valley and famous hill station.
A houseboat holiday is a delightful experience. Just stepping on board transports you to a different world, away from the hustle and bustle and noise of the city. There are different categories of houseboat, from deluxe to D class. And they could be situated either on the banks of the lake or river, or in the interior of the lake. So while selecting one you should consider this factor. If you are with your family and young children, it would be advantageous to take one which is on the banks or overlooking the Boulevard, so that you can get ashore in a few minutes. If honeymooning, you may prefer to be in the interior, all by yourselves.
Soothed by the sound of water lapping against the hull, you can relax in the cosy comfort of the living room or curl up with a book in the bedroom. Or better still, savour the peaceful ambience sitting on the veranda as shikaras glide silently by like floating supermarkets overflowing with fruit, vegetables, flowers or the choicest of handicrafts.
When in Srinagar a leisurely cruise on the lake in a shikara is a not-to-be-missed experience. You could take a short hour-long ride to see the sights of the Dal Lake, a shopping trip to floating handicraft shops on the lake or a day-long trip to visit the city’s landmarks. Down the ages many important places have been built in the vicinity of the lake such as the Hazratbal mosque and the beautiful Mughal Gardens – Nishat Bagh, the largest, with several terraces, the four-storeyed Shalimar Bagh, and Chashma Shahi, which is at a height above the city and offers spectacular views.
You can also trek up to the Shankaracharya’s Temple a thousand feet above the city or pay homage at the Chatti Padshahi Gurudwara in Rainawari.
GULMARG (2730 m) – the meadow of flowers About 50 kms away from Srinagar, it is a cup-shaped meadow 3 kms long, and over 2000 metres high. It has the highest green golf course in the world, miles of forest and numerous ski peaks. It is a golfer’s paradise in summer and a skier’s delight in winter. Indeed, with the range of facilities available (such as ski-lift, chair-lift and gondola cable car), as well as the variety of slopes, from the most gentle to intermediate and then steeper and longer, Gulmarg is the ultimate beginner’s ski resort.
PAHALGAM (2130 m), ‘the valley of shepherds’, sits along the banks of the Lidder river and is the start point for treks, excursions to glaciers and other scenic places, and the pilgrimage to the holy Amarnath shrine. It is 96 kms north-east of Srinagar.
SONAMARG (2740 m), ‘the meadow of gold’, is the last halt on the Kashmir side on the Srinagar-Leh road. It is a popular destination for trekkers, being the start point for a major trek to several beautiful mountain, lakes – Satsar, Vishansar, Kishansar, Gadsar and Gangabal.
Kashmiri Food : Kashmiri cooking has imbibed the best of Mughal, Persian and the Pandits’ food. Wazwan, an elaborate meal of 12 or more, mostly meat, dishes, is served on special occasions. The ‘wazas’ or cooks pound the meat for hours; and the finer the pounding the greater is considered their culinary art. The heady aroma of saffron, cumin seeds, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and red pepper being crushed, and rice being steamed, really gets the taste-buds working in anticipation. And as you eat each course you have to remind yourself to leave room for the remaining that are to follow!
Chennai (formerly known as Madras), the largest city in South India and the fourth largest city in the country, is located on what is popularly called the Coromandel Coast of the Bay of Bengal. The city’s development started after 1639 when the British East India Company established a Fort and a couple of Trading posts at the small fishing village called Chennai. Since then three and a half centuries have transformed this small village into a bustling metropolis, particularly known for its spaciousness, which is lacking in the other Indian cities.
While moving around in the city one cannot overlook the obvious British influence which is so evident in the various cathedrals, buildings in Indo-Saracenic style of architecture, wide tree lined avenues… the undeniable english legacy. However, despite the strong British influence, Chennai has retained its traditional Tamil Hindu culture and effectively blended it with the foreign influence. This is not surprising because this region had remained a centre of Pallavan culture long before the British had come here, traces of which are to be found in numerous old temples.
Chennai is really a lot more than the Gateway to South India. The varied aspects of traditional South Indian culture existing alongside the lifestyle of a modern city complete with its plush hotels, restaurants offering a range of continental to typical South Indian cuisine, long and uncrowded stretches of beaches, modern shopping malls, cinema halls, etc.
Fort St. George The original fort was built by the British East India Company in 1653. The fort has under gone much alteration since then and currently houses the Secretariat and the Legislative Assembly. There is a fascinating collection of Raj memorabilia in the Fort Museum. The banquet hall upstairs was built in 1802 and has paintings of Fort St. George’s governors and officials of the British regime. Visitors can also see Robert Clive’s House in the vicinity of the fort. It is now the pay accounts office which has Clive’s corner open for the public.
Kapaleeswarar Temple : An exquisite depiction of Dravidian architecture is Kapaleeswarar temple with its massive and intricately carved gopuram towering into the sky. This 8th century Pallava temple dedicated to Lord Shiva is situated in the traditional part of Chennai at Mylapore. Legend has it this the name Mylapore was derived from Mayur Puri. It is believed that Parvati in the from of peacock worshipped Lord Shiva at this spot. As many as 63 Saivite saints or nayanmars sculpted in bronze adorn the outer courtyard. The Nayanmars glorified the Lord Shiva with enchanting hymns. In March – April during the Arubathimoovar festival all the Nayanmars are taken in a procession around the temple.
Kalakshetra : Classical Dance Bharata Natyam and Carnatic music permeate the very fabric of life in Chennai. The Kalakshetra at Tiruvanmiyur, is a school of the Indian art epitomising the revival of ancient culture, crafts and heritage.
Founded in 1936 by the renowned exponent of Bharata Natyam, Rukmini Devi Arundale, the institution set in sylvan surroundings bears a resemblance to the ancient gurukulas. Classes are held in rural settings in hut type rooms under the trees of the serene campus. A section of the institute is famous for its sarees and textiles woven in traditional patterns.
Public concerts have been a part and parcel of Tamil life since early days. Within spacious temple portals, dances were performed to the lilting rhythm and music. Every year from mid – December to mid – January a month-long Dance and Music festival is held in Chennai. Connoisseurs from all over the country who come to witness a repertoire of performances are engrossed in the resounding of ankle bells, cymbals and musical compositions, leaving them enthralled to return for more, every year.
Marina Beach : The sandy stretch of beach known as the Marina which extends for 13 km is the pride of Chennai, much sought after for the cool evening breeze.
On the sea front lie memorials dedicated to political leaders and freedom fighters. Noted impressive Indo-Saracenic styled buildings like the Chepauk Place, once home of the erstwhile Nawabs of Carnatic, the Chennai University and the Presidency College add considerable grandeur to the spot. The Aquarium, Light House and promenade of walks, gardens and drives make the place one among the best attractions of the city.
Mumbai – Political capital of Maharashtra and commercial capital of the nation, Mumbai, pulsates with energy. It is an incredible city with varied cultures and amazing contradictions.
It is the industrial centre of almost everything from textiles to petrochemicals, is responsible for 50% of India’s foreign exchange earnings, contributes 33% of the income tax and handles over 40% of the maritime trade.
Bollywood (India’s Hollywood) is a place where dreams are made. Starry eyed youngsters arrive on its streets in search of instant stardom. And where there is film there is fashion. Being the world’s largest textiles market makes it the hub of haute couture. India’s ‘Little Paris’, Mumbai throngs with versatile designers, hip boutiques and beauty queens of yesteryears.
Cricketers are the other celebrity breed. Maidan cricket, played on every available empty space, is a major institution. The Mahalakshmi Race Course is where the elite congregate on Sundays to lead in the winners. This is the only legal gambling opportunity in the city.
Renamed from the old ‘Bombay’, Mumbai hums like a giant bee-hive, as its estimated 13 million residents and some 3 million commuters seem to be constantly on the move. It is easy to spot the red double-decker buses amid the nose-to-tail traffic, which crawls along in a remarkably orderly fashion. The ‘local trains’ are used extensively, disgorging millions from the suburbs.
In spite of these new world statistics, the city buildings retain an old world charm. It passed to the British from the Portuguese, as part of Catherine of Braganza’s dowry when she married Charles II in 1661. And as it grew it attracted Parsis (whose Persian ancestors landed in neighbouring Gujarat in 700 AD), Marwaris, Gujaratis and South Indian Hindus, laying the basis for its multicultural society. Later, it was at the forefront of the freedom struggle, and the Quit India Movement, led by Mahatma Gandhi, was launched at the August Kranti Maidan.
Mumbai has something for everyone. The magnificent ‘Gateway of India‘ was built to commemorate the visit of King George V in 1911. The Taj Mahal Hotel situated opposite, offers a splendid view of the harbour from its coffee shop. Standing nearby, the majestic statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji on horseback forms a popular backdrop for family photographs. Victoria Terminus(VT), the main railhead, is a lavish Gothic structure with stained glass windows, turrets and spires. And the Prince of Wales Museum is an art enthusiast’s delight with excellent collections of Indian sculpture, miniatures and Tibetan art.
The Chowpatty Beach is a magical fairground at night with pony rides, performing monkeys, fortune tellers, fishermen and picnicking families. Ship lights twinkle on the horizon, and Marine Drive, Mumbai’s most famous boulevard, adorns the bay in a dramatic curve of street lights dubbed the Queen’s Necklace.
Mumbai is India’s heartland for the performing arts. The NCPA (National Centre for the Performing Arts) has an eclectic agenda of Bengali plays, Indian classical music recitals and experimental dance performances. The old Prithvi Theatres, started by the late actor Prithvira) Kapoor, is the venue for theatrical performances with social themes. Four generations of the Kapoor family, from Prithviraj to his great granddaughter, Karishma, have contributed in a big way to the Hindi film world as actors, producers and directors.
A pot-pourri of different faiths, it is here that Haji All’s Mosque on the sea attracts thousands of visitors; where brides are given away at St Thomas’ Cathedral, where Parsis worship at Zoroastrian Fire Temples and lay out their dead in the Towers of Silence, where the Jains pay homage to the first tirthankara, at the Jain Temple; and where Hindus pray at the Temples of Mahalakshmi and resident goddess Mumbadevi.
Lord Ganesha is a popular deity, and his festival Ganesh Chaturthi, the most colourful. All across the city, huge idols of the elephant-headed God are installed on decorated platforms and streets are turned into worship halls. On the last day of the 10-day celebrations, hundreds of idols are immersed into the sea.
The city stays forever young as the pulse of its night-life vibrates to the beat of its numerous discotheques and bars – Raspberry Rhinoceros, 1900s, Ghetto’s and Copa Cabana to name a colourful few. You can dance the night away, grab a quick drink, choose your favourite cuisine for an evening meal or watch the latest Bollywood release at one of the many cinema halls.
There is so much choice and so many wonders to see around Mumbai. A greater and even more ancient wonder awaits east of Mumbai in Maharashtra, where the thirty Buddhist caves at Ajanta which are cut into the steep face of a deep rock gorge sit in silent contemplation. Feel the aura and power left behind by the Buddhist monks living 2000 years ago.
Compare them with the dynamism and energy radiating from the huge Hindu caves in nearby Ellora. Imagine the workers carving a way at solid rock on the hillside to form the thirty-four Hindu, Buddhist and Jain Caves with the stories of their religions and beliefs etched onto the walls. Stay at one of the cool and relaxing hill stations such as Matheran or Mahabaleshwar, popular with the inhabitants of Mumbai. Take an evening stroll around the peaceful Bund Gardens in pleasant and airy Pune. All these adventures will entertain and fascinate in the magic and beauty around Mumbai.