Rat temple !

Although i am not scared of Rats but these little creatures make me feel eww. Despite of this feeling I still wanted to visit Karni Mata Temple famously known as the Rat Temple whenever i visited Rajasthan. Being so close to Bikaner i could not miss this chance.

The entrance of the temple.

The entrance of the temple.

The Temple is situated at a place called Deshnok 30 kms from Bikaner and houses the official deity of the royal families of Bikaner and Jodhpur. Although i had expected what i would see here, still the whole feeling of being inside a temple with Rats running here and there made me a little uncomfortable. But everything just disappeared once I was inside. The Entrance of the temple was beautiful with typical Rajasthani architecture, carvings and marble walls.The doors had carvings of Shiva and other gods alongwith carving of tiny rats .  The Marble carvings at the entrance were just brilliant.

The brilliant marble carvings.

The brilliant marble carvings.

Once inside the complex you see Rats everywhere. Thousands of Rats either sleeping or running or feeding on food given to them by visitors. There were large bowls of milk kept here and there, and the rats were busy drinking from it in a very systematic way. Although the smell was replusive, yet the place had a spiritual feeling. These Rats are considered sacred and are taken care by the priests and the devotees. It seemed as if these tiny creatures were not bothered by the number of people visiting. They were happy in their own world. They dont bother you , so you dont bother them.

Rats just at the entrance.

Rats just at the entrance.

Busy eating oblivious of the curious eyes..

Busy eating oblivious of the curious eyes..

You can see the powerful idol of Karni Mata inside the temple and Rats all over the idol,  it seemed like home to them and the goddess their mother. Goddess Karni Mata, is said to be an incarnation of Goddess Durga and hence a lot of people visit the place to seek her blessings. I could see the rats feeding on the Prasad, but it looked like an every day affair.

Feeding on the Prasad.

Feeding on the Prasad.

The story goes as such, that a devotee of Karni Mata came to her with her dead child and she promised to help, by bringing the child back to life. However, she failed because Yama, the god of death, had already taken away his soul and incarnated him in a human form. Disappointed as she was, Karni Mata announced that her clan/tribe would die and be reborn as rats and then as humans but would not fall into Yama’s hands. And thus, the Rats inside the temple are considered to be Mata’s devotees.

in every corner ...

in every corner …

on the steps, in the verandah, in the passage...

on the steps, in the verandah, in the passage…

Some say, if your bitten by them its good luck, while some say its auspicious even if they just run over your feet . Our driver told us that there are 1-2 white Rats in the temple complex which are not so easily spotted. But if you happen to see them then that means with whatever wish you have come here , that wish will be fulfilled. I was hoping and praying that i see atleast one those white Rats but hard luck :(

Peacefully sleeping

Peacefully sleeping

Here i was trying to avoid stepping on one of the rats and there i saw this little boy playing so peacefully with them. He cuddled them, petted them till they fell asleep. Strange, but I found it cute .

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While some might find this whole thing bizarre, for me and some others this connection between the Lord and the rats is a spiritual experience which is beyond words. The place is an experience in itself . And I would recommend it ro anyone visiting Bikaner just to see the uniqueness of this Temple, where thousands of tourists come to worship these long tailed rodents.

Bikaner

On our way from Jaisalmer to Jaipur, we stopped at Bikaner for a few hours to break our journey. After our delicious Rajasthani lunch at a restaurant in Bikaner we headed straight to the Junagadh Fort. It was a massive fort made of red stone and had a series of gates that one has to pass to enter the fort.

Junagadh fort unlike other forts in Rajasthan was not built on a hill, that was a surprise to me.

The Fort Complex.

The Fort Complex.

Rao Bika, the second son of Rao Jodha who was the founder of Jodhpur was the first one to built a fort in Bikaner even before Junagadh fort was built. The stone fort still exists but is in ruins. The city of Bikaner was founded by Rao Bika in the year 1478. It was only later,after 100 years that the city of Bikaner flourished under the rule of Raja Rai Singhji , the sixth ruler of Bikaner who ruled the city from 1571 to 1611 AD. The Junagadh fort was then built under the supervision of Karan Chand, a trusted aide of Raja Rai Singhji. History has it, that despite repeated attempts to capture the fort, it could not be captured. Only once when Kamran Mirza, the second son of the Mughal Emperor Babur had captured the fort for one day, he was then defeated by the Rathors and had to return back to Lahore.

The fort where twenty kings have resided, was once called Chintamani Durg, but was later named Junagadh, when the royal family moved out to their new palace residence.
However, The Raja Rai Singhji trust founded by the Royal family has put in a lot of efforts to maintain the fort and the museum within. They also provide guided tours to visitors for a minimum cost. The person who took us around was a very old security guy who has been here for ages and before him his family too worked with the Royal Family. He was systematic in his approach , provided a lot of information while showing us around and answered all our questions with a smile.07_Bikaner (55)

As soon as you enter the Fort , you come across this massive red colored wall with steps on each sides.(pic below). It was such a beautiful sight and my favorite part of the fort. As we entered inside, we could see there was restoration work going on one side of the palace. Hence, we coudnt click the famous cannon which was captured by Maharaja Gaj Singh, the 14th ruler of Bikaner, in 1808. Its a small cannon but the guide told us that it has a lot importance in the history of Bikaner.

My favourite part of the fort complex.

My favourite part of the fort complex.

Restoration work in progress.

Restoration work in progress.

When we went further inside I could see that there were lots of courtyards and each of them were different . The courtyards then led to different palaces or Mahal like the Karan Mahal, Anoop Mahal, Phool Mahal, Badal Mahal, Durbar Hall , each one an architectural marvel, some with rubies and emeralds studded, some with gold dazzling chandeliers, white washed marble walls, motifs of flowers, glass inlay work, and 1100 year old Sandalwood throne. Beautiful paintings on the walls, lattice work on the windows , use of red stones and marbles in the construction, everything was a visual treat to the eyes. My favourite was the door made from Walnut tree wood. It looked as if it was made just yesterday. Kudos to the efforts of the Trust who maintain the place.

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The beautiful cielings

The beautiful ceiling.

The palace complex has a museum within the fort called the Junagadh Fort museum which was established in 1961, with lots of objects in display. A huge collection of armouries, sofa sets, tea sets, spoons, mirrors, gold and silver howdahs, thrones, palanquins,sanskrit and persian manuscripts, war drums, royal costumes, paintings etc. A special mention to the huge Haviland Plane which was on display, the guide told us that the King of Bikaner had good relations with the British and this plane was gifted to him by the Britishers as a friendly gesture.

The Junagadh fort is a grand affair and something very different from the Mehrangarh fort of Jodhpur. It took us 2-3 hours to see the whole place  and this was just a small portion of the fort that is open to the public.

The Marble seat was used by the King .

The Marble seat was used by the King .

The view of Badal Mahal.

The view of Badal Mahal.

When we came out and were about to leave, the guide told us there was a small museum just outisde the fort but within the premises that we should not miss. We walked towards the small complex facing the fort palace. This museum called PRACHEENA is founded by the present princess of Bikaner has some of her personal and some royal collection in display. Its surely not to be missed.

One thing that comes to mind when I think of Bikaner fort palace is “Grand” , yet I see a lot of people giving Bikaner city a miss. The Rao Singhji Trust is doing a great job and the Palace itself is so beautiful and full of history that more and more people need to know about it.

Jaisalmer – the golden city

We reached Jaisalmer late in the evening when it was almost dark. Tired and exhausted i just had my food and retired to bed. Morning when i got up, i was least expecting anything extraordinary from the place. But the moment we stepped out i came to know why this city is called as the golden city. Everything from the houses, shops, hotels etc were golden in colour or it has probably got to do more with the yellow sandstone that has been used extensively in the construction of these, and the shining golden sun just added to the sight giving this place a honey-golden feel.  The one thing that kept following us everywhere we went were the Cows….where ever you see there were cows all around. Maybe its because major part of the population lead a life grazing their flocks and herds.

Jaisalmer Fort- the second largest fort in Rajasthan.

Jaisalmer Fort- the second largest fort in Rajasthan.

Jaisalmer is surrounded by Bikaner, Jodhpur and Pakistan border. Jaisalmer was a major route for trade between Indian and Arabian Merchants. But when Mumbai emerged as an important port for sea trade, Jaisalmer’s land routes just faded away. Further the India Pakistan partition led to the closure of the routes completely.

Jaisalmer lies in the Thar Desert and boasts of the only living fort in India, with one fourth of the citys population still living inside the fort. Although its something that is a major attraction for tourists , i personally felt that the fort was not clean and nobody made efforts to keep it clean. With large number of families living inside the fort, temples, shops, restaurants etc inside the fort the amount of garbage and trash that you see makes you disappointed. Especially after visting forts like the Amer Fort and Mehrangarh Fort.

But despite of all this, The Jaisal fort is major tourist attraction especially with the foreign tourists. Its the second largest fort in Rajasthan with a 30 feet high wall  and has 9 bastions, 92 of which were built between 1633 and 1647. The jain temples inside the fort just makes you go Wow. The architecture is awe inspiring. We walked and walked and came across such beautiful architectural gems that we couldnt get our eyes off them. The view of the City from the fort was amazing.

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Beautiful Architecture of the Jain Temples.

Beautiful Architecture of the Jain Temples.

Patwon ki Haveli and Salim singh ki Haveli are also major attractions here. Its definitely worth a visit. The Jali work windows or Jharokas that had got me mesmerised at Mehrangarh Jodhpur again managed to get me excited at Patwon ki Haveli. Its also the best place to get some amazing photo-ops.You will be speechless looking at the architecture and your camera wont stop clicking.

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Patwon Ki Haveli

Later in the evening we visited BaraBaugh a garden complex that contains a set of royal cenotaphs or chhatris of Maharajas of Jaisalmer. It was so beautiful , and with the setting sun in the background the place looked just out of this world. The hill with the cenotaphs are frequently visited by tourists whereas the garden is highly neglected.

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Chhatris of Bara Baugh

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Cenotaphs of Bara Baugh

Shopping is another attraction here, with locally made bedsheets with beautiful designs, shawls, carpets, jewellery,amazing handicrafts especially puppets etc. You will also find musicians playing their instruments in every nook and corner of the fort giving it a very soothing feeling.

Being a Desert , Jaisalmer majorly depends on Tourism.  Like our guide said , the local people here are so much depended on tourists for their livelihood that even kids know spanish, german and french more than English. And we actually saw a lot of people/ guides talking spanish and german to the foreign tourists.

Our Hotel - the rooms were basic but the food was amazing.

Our Hotel – the rooms were basic but the food was amazing.

The one thing that i thoroughly enjoyed in Jaisalmer apart from the food was the Desert safari. I could easily compare it with the Desert Safari that i took in Dubai and surely theres nothing that could even come close to it. But Jaisalmer’s Desert Safari has a charm of its own. A very local, Indian and soothing feeling. I felt i was living a dream. The Camel ride was scary but super entertaining. We had a 10 year old kid taking care of our camel which added to our fear. But soon we realised that he was a Pro. And then seeing the sun set at the Thar desert was the most thrilling experience ever.

My favourite shot of the setting sun at the Thar Desert.

My favourite shot of the setting sun at the Thar Desert.

my singing campanion at the desert.

my singing companion at the desert.

Although cleanliness was something that bothered me, but still Jaisalmer had its own way of winning me over. Its definitely a great place to unwind and losing yourself to desolate landscapes and artistic monuments.

A visit to Kuldhara a ghost town, with haunting stories which i dint dare visit this time as i was too scared after hearing all the stories is still pending. Maybe next time when i have gathered all the courage.

 

Paradise Island Resort – A Photo Essay

I could go on and on about Maldives & never get tired of it. Here i am with another photo essay dedicated to this beautiful island nation that got me mesmerized.

From the moment i stepped into Maldives i was head over heels in love with this island nation. It is known to be the smallest Asian country with 1192 coral islands grouped in a chain of 26 atolls, out of which 185 islands are home to its inhabitants while the rest are used for tourism. When a hotel staff told me this i was shocked, my reaction was “one resort is one island?” It is also the lowest country in the world but the most beautiful one.

With captivating ocean views of Indian ocean, deep blue lagoons, white sandy beaches and first class accommodation, Maldives is surely an unforgettable experience. This post is a photo essay of our journey in this island.

The dock outside the Airport..from where a speedboat takes you to the resort

The dock outside the Airport..from where a speedboat takes you to the resort

Some resorts have Sea plane service to ferry their customers to the hotels.

Our resort from the speed boat.

Our resort from the speed boat.

We stayed at Lankanfinolhu island , which is in North Male atoll . Our resort was called the Paradise Island Resort and it was the best choice we ever made.

I loved spending time by the poolside.

I loved spending my time by the poolside.

Our over water villas with steps down to the crystal clear water.

Our over water villas with steps down to the crystal clear water.

View of water villas from the beach villa.

View of water villas from the beach villa.

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I spotted so many of these outside my room.

It was a soothing experience relaxing  just a few feet above the Indian ocean, watching the sky merging with the blue water.

The sit-out outside our room.

The sit-out outside our room.

This was my favourite place.

This was my favourite place.

And his too ;)

With beach just a few steps away, fishes all around you, crystal clear water where you can see your reflection and ocean right outside your room but yet so private, we certainly did feel we were in paradise.

Our Resort

Our Resort

The never ending beachside.

The never ending beachside.

I could never get enough of  Maldives and i definitely want to go back again , maybe to another island , another paradise.

Agra fort – A brush with history.

Agra, is a place full of history, architecture and stories of love & war. We planned to visit Agra after spending 12 days exploring Rajasthan. I mostly wanted to see Agra just for Taj Mahal but Agra fort surprised me. Its etched forever in my memory . We had no fixed itinerary and just a day to go. But I made the right decision to spend a few hours in the Agra fort before heading back to Jaipur to catch a flight back home.

The Agra fort seemed like a regular fort with red walls from outside. My first impression was “what’s so great about it?” It seemed nothing like the things I read but I dint know what was in store for me inside. As soon as I entered the Fort, I could see things that I had read in the book come alive. The huge chain which was just at the entry point was the same one the old lady had banged In order to seek justice from Emperor Jahangir for her son.

The main Entrance of the fort.

The courtyards, the gardens , Angoor Baugh which was the Mughal kings favourite place, everything was just so beautiful.

Angoor Baugh..

The courtyard which used to hosts bazaars for the ladies of the harem, this courtyard was then turned into a lawn by the Britisher’s. The terrace area where Mehrunissa or Nurjahan the most powerful empress of king Jahangir used to sit and play chess with soldiers doubling Up as horses,Wazirs etc.

The well maintained courtyard.

The same terrace which was then Aurangzeb’s  personal courtroom, still maintained by the authorities.

Aurangzeb's Seat...made of precious gems.

Aurangzeb’s Seat…made of precious gems.

Rohanara and Jahanara’s palanquin or doli shaped rooms which was built by their father Shahjahan with a wish that his daughters get married. Jahanara’s room , the place from where he used to sit and watch the construction of Tajmahal.

Can you see the palanquin shaped room?

A closer view of the room...Its from here that the Emperor used to watch the construction of Taj mahal after being captured by his son.

A closer view of the room…Its from here that the Emperor used to watch the construction of Taj mahal after being captured by his son.

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Another view of the room with the terrace.

The terrace from where you get spectacular views of the whole of Agra City with Tajmahal and Yamuna river in the background. The fort palace, the rooms, the courtyard etc the decor of which spelt elegance and royalty.

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The Mughal story was an interesting one and I was always curious. It helped that I knew a bit of history before I visited this place because it helped me connect instantly.

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The massive walls

The few hours that I spent at the Agra fort was my brush with history and also with the characters that had mesmerized me and made me read the The taj trilogy (my favourite of the lot being Feast of Roses ). Even before the guide could tell , I knew what I was looking at , glad that I had read all the three books from the series. This was my most memorable part of the trip. The book gave my trip a new dimension . Even if you have not read the book, go for it , I am sure the place will surprise you ..and you’ll love it.

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Note: There are lots & lots of guides waiting outside to get hold of you. Make sure you take one who is govt recognised, it’s a good way of knowing the history of the place. If you don’t want a guide, you can still see the place on your own. There’s a small entry fee.

Mangalore – a foodie’s paradise

Mangalore is second home to me, and if there’s something that I love about this city more than its beaches & culture, it’s Mangalorean food. Yes it’s a foodie’s paradise especially for non-vegetarian. Although Mangalore is my native place and my mom cooks authentic mangalorean food at home, I still make it a point to hog like a dog whenever I am there on my annual vacation.

What’s interesting is the same food tastes differently at different places and that makes it all the more interesting. Like the same chicken curry would taste different in proper Mangalore city (Kudla like it’s called) than it would in Kundapur region where they use coconut milk and Kundapur chilli powder. You should taste both to know what I mean.

Kori Roti – Photo courtesy: Punik Shetty

Mangalore is famous for its Kori Roti. You ask any Mangalorean Bunt what would they prepare tonite as a speciality dish and 99percent the reply would be Kori Rotti. Kori is a Tulu(local language of mangalorean’s) word for chicken and ghasi means curry , so it would be Kori ghasi with Rotti. Rotti here is not your indian bread but crispy rice wafers which when mixed with chicken curry and it tastes delicious. Mind you, Mangalorean food can be real spicy but finger licking good. My mouth is watering as I write this. All my friends who come home ask my mom to prepare this dish as they love it more than anything else .

So when in Mangalore, make sure you taste Kori Rotti , it is easily available at all local or top restaurants.

Chicken Ghee Roast

Another famous mangalorean dish would be my favourite the Chicken Ghee Roast. Spicy chicken cooked in Ghee on a slow flame. This is spicy but you would want to eat it more and more even if your eyes are watery because of all the spice. Although Chicken Ghee roast is also available at all restaurants, but if you want to try authentic ghee roast try : Abhimaan Restaurant, Kudla, Mangalore city .
Hotel Maharaja , Kudla, Mangalore city.
Shetty Lunch Home, Kundapur.
I have tried it at all three places and loved it.

For your daily dose of evening Tea/coffee, head straight to Kalladka, some 30-31 kms from Mangalore in the Bantwal taluka. The tea served in an old Hotel called Laxmi Nivas is a favourite pit stop for motorists. The hotel is famous for its unique way of making tea and coffee for almost 30 years now. The Kalladka tea or KT as it’s famously called is not your regular tea, its one fourth layer of thick tea decoction sitting atop thick milk, while normal tea has a frothy milk cream layer atop of the tea. In KT the cream is not on top of tea, it’s the other way round. The tea here is served in a typical local fashion , in a glass placed inside a stainless steel bowl with a spoon. It’s a very different version of tea and not your regular tea , available only at Kalladka. The taste is amazing and difficult to find anywhere else. For people who don’t drink Tea, they have a coffee version of it too called Rimjhim.

KT

KT

Laxmi Nivas hotel@ Kalladka - your stop for KT. pic courtesy : Google

Laxmi Nivas hotel@ Kalladka – your stop for KT.
pic courtesy : Google

It’s time for deserts after dinner and Mangalore doesn’t disappoint you here. Infact you will be will spoilt for choice. From pastries , cakes, sweets, payasam, holige to unlimited choice of icecreams. Yes icecreams !!! Mangalore is an icecream lovers paradise. Apart from Naturals, Baskin Robbins etc if you want to know where the locals go to satisfy their icecream pangs , it’s either Ideal at Hampankatta or Pabba’s at Lalbaugh both a hot favourite in Kudla ( as mangalore city is called) and the oldest too. Ideal has a lot of branches all over the city and is a brand in itself. Pabbas is the sister concern of Ideal.

Pabbas !!

Pabbas !!

Ideal ice creams is the city’s well known icecream manufacturer and have last year bagged 5 national prizes at the “Great indian icecream contest”. The place is crowded in the weekends and you need to buy a token just to get in. That’s right , it’s that famous. The variety of ice creams that you find here I have personally not seen anywhere else. Some of which are -:
Dilkhush – literal meaning is Happy Heart – is a scoop of strawberry, vanilla and butterscotch icecream with raisins, cashew nuts and pieces of fruits like apple, mango etc which is topped with strawberry sauce. Yummy

Parafit – Different slabs of icecream mixed with lots and lots of fruits.

pic courtesy - Google

pic courtesy – Google

Choclate Dad – Its basically Choclolate icecream, with lots of nuts , with a layer of caramel and scoop of vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. An absolute treat for Chocolate and caramel lovers.

Last but not the least the famous and most popular Gadbad – Its an inhouse speciality and their signature ice-cream. My family swears by this icecream, we never miss an opportunity to get hold of Gadbad when in Mangalore that too everyday . Gadbad has a layer of vanilla ice-cream with generous helping of fresh fruits, a layer of strawberry ice-cream, jelly , lots of dried fruits like cashews, almonds, raisins. And it is topped by some rose syrup, a scoop of another ice-cream and a topping of cherry. Mouth watering isn’t it? It’s super filling too. It tastes twice as good as the description Trust me.

The famous Gadbad !!

The famous Gadbad !!

No this is not the end… Theres Falooda, Banana split, American choconut, Tiramisu, Cake sandwich, caramel slab, Bee Hive and so on. There are roughly 45 flavours and 100’s of combinations. With so many varieties , you are like I said earlier, Spoilt for choice. Ideals and Pabba’s are not limited to icecream, they serve snacks like sandwich, cutlets and milkshakes etc too. The success story of Ideal icecreams is a different and an amazing story altogether. Once you taste these , you will not feel like having icecreams at your regular famous ice cream joints especially when your in Mangalore. The Mangaloreans are surely lucky when it comes to Icecreams !!

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Another famous and  favourite snack of  Mangaloreans are the Goli Bhaje , which can be had with coconut chutney. Its my favourite and super delicious. You can find these in any local restaurants or dhaba’s and any small food stalls as well. Its easily available in Mangalore or any other small villages.

Goli Bhaje – pic courtesy – Google

Being a coastal town, Mangalore is also known for its Sea-food. Right from Prawns fry to Pomfret curry , from squids to Crab curry, you have plenty of options to choose from. But make sure you try out Kane Fry a special dish easily available everywhere. Its super delicious, and one of my favourites.

Being a coastal town, Sea-food is another speciality of this city. – Photo courtesy : Punik Shetty

Apart from these, Mangalore specialities also includes Chicken Sukka, Biryani, South Indian specials like Idli, variety of Dosas , uttapam, etc. Although Mangaloreans especially Bunt community are hard core non vegetarians, Mangalore doesn’t lag behind when it comes to traditional , delicious vegetarian food as well.

Idli's, appams, Dosas - dont they look delicious?? Photo courtesy : Punik Shetty

Idli’s, appams, Dosas – dont they look delicious??
Photo courtesy : Punik Shetty

So the next time your in Mangalore, and want to savour your taste buds, go on a Food trail in this coastal city. And it will surely not disappoint you.

Saas Bahu Temples – Off the beaten path

Just 23 kms from Udaipur, is the ancient capital of Mewar, Nagda. It was ruled by the Mewar rulers for 7 generations. As of today, the place is in ruins and visited bya few. The Saas-Bahu Temple at Nagda  is the main attraction of this place. The Temple though called Saas Bahu (the literal transalation of which is Mother-in-law and Daughter-in-law) is actually a temple dedicated to a form of Lord Vishnu, known as Sahastra-Bahu (One with thousand Arms).

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The temple complex built in the 10th century houses Vishnu, Shiva and Jain Temples with wonderful architectural details. Stories from mahabharat and ramayana are depicted on the temple walls. The complex is divided in 2 parts, the Saas temples which is comparatively little larger than the “Bahu” temples. Most of these temples are in ruins but anybody interested in history and architecture , this place will surely interest you. Its an opportunity to experience the artistic beauty of those times.

The entrance

The entrance

The Saas-Bahu Temple

The Saas-Bahu Temple

The place is now maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India. And finds it place in the list of Heritage monuments. With interesting Architecture and carvings, the Saas-Bahu Temple is a not to be missed trip when in Udaipur.

Makes for a perfect postcard !!

Makes for a perfect postcard !!

Shopping outside the complex..

Shopping outside the complex..

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Another place which is well worth a visit from Udaipur is Haldighati, a historic site where the great battle between Maharana Pratap and Mughal Emperor Akbar took place.The place is called Haldighati because the soil is yellow (Haldi-turmeric) in color. Enroute you can also visit the Chhatri of Maharana Pratap’s beloved horse “Chetak”.

Haldighati

Haldighati