Monday, May 16, 2011

Vaishali: It all started from here…

In a recent survey when this fact was revealed that there was more number of foreigner tourists to Bihar than Goa, I was pleasantly surprised. Two places immediately stuck in my mind, one is Vaishali and another one is Bodhgaya. I had spent my childhood in Patna but never got the chance to visit these places before. So in March 2011, when I went to my home town, I decided to witness the place which gave us the system which we all proud of and that make our country world’s largest democratic nation on the face of earth.

Vaishali's Ashok Stambh
Without being politically inclined one thing every Bihari will admit that infrastructural development has actually taken place in Bihar. Vaishali is around 60 km from Patna and roads are really well maintained. However crossing the Mahatma Gandhi Setu, between Patna and Hajipur, which is second largest river bridge in Asia, is a real pain. Here you can taste the politics between state and Center government. Most of the roads in Bihar are now well maintained but this very important river bridge is yet to repair because it falls under the center quota for its maintenance.

From Hajipur you have to go Vaishali via Lalganj and other small villages. The drive till Vaishali is so pleasant. Small villages, lush green fields, picture perfect faces will accompany you throughout your journey. Infrastructure has started developing but it will take time to change the way of living of people and that makes this place different.

People are still addicted to their simple life style, but everybody seems to be optimistic. One statement that I heard in Patna from a native, that soon a walking space is going to maintained around majestic Ganga river, which will be same as marine drive in Mumbai. Quite overstated but the guy seems to be a firm believer of his optimism. That impressed me a lot, after years of deprivation how the aspiration of common man starts to advances.

Back to journey, visiting Vaishali is very rewarding by all means. I went their along with my cousin brothers and we had a great time there. First we visited Archaeological Museum of Vaishali.

Proof of our rich heritage
Interesting Stuff
Photography was prohibited inside so you have to see your own. There were numerous coins, sculptures, daily need objects and arms. First hand experience of our rich heritage.

Then we clicked some pictures in and around.

Vishwa Shanti Stoop
Our next destination was a long standing statue made by emperor Ashoka the great.

Ashok Stambh
Because of its height local people got an interesting name for it, “Bhim ki Lathi”. This place has got feel of history, it’s so different and charming.

While we were exploring a group of Buddhist from Srilanka came there. They started their rituals and pray by revolving round the structure and lighting candles.

The Caretaker of this place informed us that exploration is still under progress and may be in coming months some new facts will revealed.

Vaishali has got credit of being the birth place of 24th Jain Guru Bhagwan Mahavir. This is also closely related to Buddha. He spent many of his years here. One of the eight famous magic that happened in Buddha’s life was happened here. As the legend goes a group of monkeys presented honey to Buddha and also made a pond for him. It is also believed that beneath the stoop there are body parts of Buddha. He also declares his “Nirvana” here.  

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Never been to such a height...

Few days back I had seen a movie “Into the Wild”. A guy leaves all his material possessions and chooses to live in absolute solace into the wild. However that was somehow related to his family circumstances but it compels me to think that, can’t it be the way of life. We used to live a market driven life in big cities, persuaded by marketing managers of big corporate, which brand to buy, what kind of life to live...spend major part in rat race leaving family and our loved ones waiting and still not getting those beautiful aspects of life that we want to cherish like traveling, reading, sitting relaxed and watching movies, few leisurely moment with loved ones without getting in hurry and at the same time doing work which is for our growth and as per our need.
I would like to share few beautiful lines from this movie before starting my travel experience.

It’s a mystery to me
We have a greed
With which we have agreed
You think you have to want more than you need
Until you have it all you won’t be freed
Society you are a crazy breed
I hope you are not lonely without me
When you want more than you have
You think you need
And when think more than you want
Your thoughts begin to bleed
I think I need to find a bigger place
Because when you have more than you think
You need more space
Society you are a crazy breed
I hope you are not lonely without me
Society, crazy indeed
I hope you are not lonely without me

Everybody has its own reasons to visit a place. I usually prefer some offbeat location, to be with myself and to cherish the nature and most importantly to get away from the chaos and madness which is part and parcel of our life. One such place I found 65 km ahead of Shimla, an amazingly beautiful place called Narkanda. It is a place of sun kissed White Mountains. Highest point in Narkanda i.e. Hatu peak is at 11152 ft.

A view from Hatu Peak, Narkanda
We started at 8 from ISBT Delhi and took a bus to Shimla. By 6 AM we reached there. Taxi charges for Narkanda was 1600-1800 Rs. which was quite against of our smart and budget traveling motto. So we walked till “Lakkad Bazar” and waited for long route taxis. It is always a good option to get a long route cab from highways itself, because it actually gets cheap. We managed to get a Xylo for 600 bucks, made some friendly conversation with driver and he happily stopped en route to click some pictures.

I love the clouds in hills

The road was in real pathetic condition and we came to know that from last one year it is like this. In two and a half hour we reached Narkanda. We had idea about hotel Hatu, but near to bus stand there was a PWD guest house, so we decided to try our luck. And guess what for just 370 Rs. we get a room with all amenities.

Sipping a cup of tea here was a divine experience

After getting fresh we first went to this restaurant which is highly recommended in Narkanda. Amazing food to savor our test buds.

Best food option in Narkanda Market
Now it was time for some real action. The taxi charges for Hatu peak is 500 Rs. to and fro. We took the taxi for dropping only thinking to repeat the same fun of Kunjapuri i.e walking down the hill, that I had posted in my previous post “Eureka”.  The route was a single narrow lane and its really difficult to drive here. Sometimes two vehicle just stuck leaving no room to breathe.

Driving to Hatu Peak is really challenging
Well Hatu peak was out of the world. Look at it.
The renovation work was going on in Hatu temple
Full of snow even in April

One can sit here for endless hour 
Top of the world
I never been to this much height before

We heard about a nearby place called “Jobag” which is supposingly at a distance of 2-3 km inside the deep forest. We didn’t realized the risk, that we came to know next day from the same cab driver, and we went there.

See the surrounding...amazing
In complete solace

This place was in deep forest 3 km from Hatu peak

It was a completely isolated place but quite a discovery. Later we came to know that it was a house of several wild animals.
Finally we decided to come back unwillingly from this heaven. Clicked some more pics.

The root becomes rock
In the middle of nowhere this house came as a surprise
Although walking down was not easy but yet rewarding

The middle path leads to Hatu peak
Take this note seriously
This time we realized that it was not easy walk as Kunjapuri. I guess altogether we walked around 12-15 km to reach to our guest house. Completely tired and devastated.

Next morning we decided to explore a nearby place “Tani Jubbar Lake”.

See the beauty...

We saw lot and lot of apple trees that were started to blossom in nearby village.

Apple trees
Villagers in relaxing mood
To protect apple flowers they use nets.

Looks like someone is camping...but it is net on apple trees
We then visited skiing place of Narkanda. That time some cricket tournament was going on. One thing that I specially noticed about young residents of Narkanda, is the feel good factor among them. They seems quite happy in this relatively remote area. Nice haircut, shades, high awareness level, leaving their life king size.

IPL music was playing on loudspeaker
Even Sachin would love to play here
What about this classroom location? India is really incredible!

Who can stop us?
There is another part of this life, which is not bed of roses. A boy collecting woods for domestic purpose.

Whatever the circumstances, life goes on.

Farewell Narkanda. Before leaving this place I found some new destinations to travel.


Around 3 we started our backward journey to Shimla. Took a quick stroll to mall road for some time and finally took the 8 PM bus to Delhi. It was first trip of Shimla for my friend and he was in complete love with it.

What to say. Leaving something that we enjoyed most, going to a place which seems to be a rooster coop, trying to find a middle way which can lead to a balance, and somehow more determined that present destination is not my destiny, there are something else waiting for.     

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Braj Bhoomi : Way to Nirvana

The festival of Holi is all about fun and happiness scattered through splendid colors. But in Braj Bhoomi, that includes Nand Gaon, Barsana, Govardhan, Gokul, Mathura and Vrindavan, it is the way of life for entire 40 days starting from Basant panchami to Holi.

The Latthmar Holi of Barsana is world famous. It is played between two villages Nand Gaon and Barsana. As per ritual, women strike men with wooden rod.

So, where could one witness the spirit of Holi other that the place where it is suppose to be at its best. On March 13th 2011, I decided to be part of this madness. We started early around 5 in the morning from Sahibabad. Delhi Agra highway is pretty smooth to drive specially after Faridabad.

Sunrise en-route
Around 8 we reached to Barsana. Dew was still there on wheat corps, and we couldn’t resist ourselves to get clicked.

To our disappointment we came to know that Latthmar Holi will begin from next day i.e. 14th onwards. That day it was Laddo ki Holi. There is a famous Radha Temple in Barsana, where devotees were present in large numbers; throwing laddos (sweets) on each other, everyone was singing and dancing even people greet each other with Radhey-Radhey. Photography was not allowed inside the temple.

Devi Radha Temple in Barsana
Our next stop was Govardhan. We skipped Nandgaon as it was on opposite direction. From Barsana to Govardhan the road condition was pathetic. 15 km drive took one hour. However we got some first hand experience of real India.

Road condition from Barsana to Govardhan
Two boys, studying near a grass field, while their livestock’s are grazing.

Incredible India
 We complain for rush in AC Metro train and here, everything seems to be quite normal.

This is what we know as Jugaad. The word has its origin from this vehicle only. This Jugaad can’t get registered under Indian Motor Vehicle Act, so there is no fine for overloading or rash driving.

A word of caution, get one extra pair of west before driving in this road, because you’ll feel like detaching the original one to give it some rest.

Parking is a real pain in Govardhan. Private parking owners charges as many as 50 Rs for an hour and if they allowed they will park your car in others trunk. Half of the city area is occupied by sweets shops and rest by devotees. From here we started to understand the economy of religious cities.

Sweet Shop in Govardhan

Everyone has something to do with religious faith. Inside the temple there is a large stone of Govardhan Parvat, which Lord Krishna lifted to save the entire region from non-stop rain.

Govardhan Temple
From Govardhan we drove to Mathura. Before Krishna birthplace temple parking we hired a guide for Gokul. You can easily find a guide that will charge 50 Rs for Gokul and Mathura and another 50 Rs will extend the service till Vrindavan. Gokul is about 15 km from Mathura. To our luck we get the chance to see the lord in his gold palki, which is only available in month of March.

Here Lord Krishna spent his childhood
Most of the temples of Gokul, Mathura and Vrindavan area are managed by government trust so one needs not to pay to any individual. You can pay a stipulated amount for shringar and get receipt of the same. So not every individual will bother you, but still they persuade to do shringar. 

After Gokul we visited Shri Krishna Birthplace Temple at Mathura. This is one of the most guarded and well managed Hindu worshiped places. The disputed Babri-Masjid is adjacent to it. The mosque is open during eid for namaz. Heavy security forces are deployed in and around temple and you can’t carry anything inside except your wallet, that too after thorough checkup.  Photography is strictly prohibited. Once you are inside the temple you’ll enjoy every bit of it. One should stay till Aarti, however since we intended to cover Vrindavan too so after lunch we proceeded further.

Vrindavan is another 15 km drive from Mathura and it is rightly said that you can count stars in sky but you can’t measure the exact number of temples in Vrindavan. There are so many temples so we decided to visit two most famous temples i.e. “Shri Banke Bihari Ji Temple” and “Iskon Temple”. Due to Holi, the temple was over crowded.

Shri Banke Bihari Ji Temple, Vrindavan
Shri Prabhupad, Founder of Iskon Sect
Iskon Temple Vrindavan
Iskon Temple Vrindavan
Devotees in complete ecstasy
Volunteer of Iskon Temple and devotee
Most of the Iskon Vrindavan workers are foreign origin
In Iskon Temple I met a volunteer, who was selling books related to Prabhupad ideology, who was founder of Iskon. His name was Baldev, sounds interesting, a devotee and volunteer in Iskon temple and his name is also a kind of religious one. Is it a mere co-incidence or something fishy? I inquired more in a friendly tone and then came the actual story. His real name was Badal. He was not from a very good background, aged 25 something, in day shift works in a mobile company and in night he changes his dress and ideology to suit Krishna devotees. He has got some target to sell religious books. The way he approached me, typical salesman style, made me curious.

So, here goes the story, a young guy with not so promising career, is working in two shifts to meet his day-to-day needs. In morning he sells mobile plan to customers and in evening books to devotees. In return he got the dress as per Prabhupad Sect and his daily expenses, in his words, Iskon take care of his daily needs. Most of the temples in Mathura and Vrindavan don’t allow photography, but in Iskon you can click as many photographs as you wanted provided you are not invading privacy of others. They have an eating point, books and CD/DVD store inside the temple, and a Janpath style market just opposite to the temple to woo foreigners. Another example of how the economy of religious cities works. 

We came back around 9 PM from Vrindavan, discussing what we observe there, Shri Banke Bihari ji Temple was a total chaos, poor lighting and unorganized crowd, while Iskon was one of the best managed one. How God liked it to be? But on one point we all agreed that whatever way it is, faith is not going to die, neither from us also.