February 2019 - Be On The Road | Live your Travel Dream!

Monday, February 18, 2019

Unexplored Heritage of India: A Odisha Photo Story

Rich Culture of Odisha through its Sand Art

We all know about the rich heritage of India that dates back many thousands of years. While there are many popular heritage destinations strewn all across the country, there are some lesser known ones too. I like to point your attention to the state of Odisha that has many such unexplored heritage gems. From some of India’s oldest cave temples to shadow puppetry, from ancient Buddhist sites to 2500 year old art forms, from some of the most intricate temple architecture to some of the oldest maritime trade centers and from beautiful sand art to some of the most graceful dances, Odisha seems to have it all. This photo story aims at bring these unexplored heritage gems to light. Thank you Odisha Tourism and Times Passion Trails for letting me experience them up close and in real.

Do plan a holiday to Odisha, India’s best kept secret, if this article piques your interest!

Above photo: Odisha is the home of world renowned sand artist and Padma Shri awardee Sudarsan Pattnaik who has represented India in over 60 international sand sculpture championships. Hailing from poor family and with the blessings of Lord Jagannath, it was at Puri beach that Mr. Sudarsan Pattnaik honed his art. If you happen to be in Puri, do visit his Sudarsan Sand Art Institute.

Shadow Puppetry, ancient heritage of Odisha

Above photo: Said to have originated sometime in 5th century B.C in India, Greece or China, Shadow puppetry still exists in Odisha. Called Ravana Chhaya, these shadow plays of Odisha, portray the abduction of Sita, the Quest for Sita, Mahalaxmi Katha and many other mythological and contemporary stories. It is from Eastern and Southern India that such shadow puppetry find its way to South East Asia and East Asia, possibly during the reign of King Ashoka and the Chola Kings, both of whom were extremely strong sea farers.

Stunning Filigree work on the walls of the Mukteshwar Temple, Bhubaneshwar, Odisha

Above photo: Considered to be the gem of Kalinga architecture, the Mukteshwar temple dates back to 950 AD. Preceding both the Lingaraj and the Rajarani temples of Bhubaneshwar, the Muktesvara temple is the only temple in this region that has a torana or porch. It is full of lattice work and intricate carving and sculpting. It is believed that many artisans of the later years took inspiration from this temple for their designs.

The beautiful and large Buddha statue at Ratnagiri ruins, Odisha

Above photo: Somewhere in the 5th to 6th century AD, there were Buddhist monasteries and universities in Odisha where Buddhist monks focussed on their monastic life and meditation studies. Ratnagiri, along with Lalitgiri and Udaygiri is part of the Pushpagiri Buddhist maha vihara is believed to have the birth place of all the preachers of Buddhism. It is from these Buddhist universities that Buddhism is believed to have traveled to China, South East Asia and the far east. Such massive Buddha statues and many votive stupas can be seen all across Ratnagiri ruins.

Konark Sun Temple - Sound and Light Show

Above photo: The UNESCO World Heritage Konark Sun Temple is something that most of us are aware of. It you are not, just look at the back of the new 10 rupee currency note and you will see it. This magnificent Sun temple is a stunning work of art, creativity, size and technological brilliance. The evening sound and light show at this temple is a great way to rewind the years and understand the why, how and when of this temple. While some of the story is factual, the other bit is folk lore and mythological. Nonetheless, a captivating 35 minutes in front of one of India’s best temples.

The traditional Chandua umbrella

Above photo: Have you seen the colorful umbrellas that protect the Lord Jagannath, Balram and Subadhra from the elements during the Rath Yatra? That umbrella is the work of artisans from a small village called Pipili and their craft is called Chandua or Indian applique work. What started as a craft to decorate the gods has now evolved into wedding shamianas, bags, wall hangings, lamp shades, umbrellas and so much more.

Stupa at Lalitgiri - one of the earlier signs of Buddhism in India

Above photo: One of the earliest sites of Buddhism in Odisha, it is believed that Buddhism was practiced, preached and taught unbroken from the 3th century BC until the 10th century AD.  While a big stupa still stands intact even today, many brick and stone based remnants adorn the rest of the landscape. Stupas, sculptures of Buddha, Avalotikeshvara and Tara can also be found here.

Traditional Kitchen of Anant Basudev Temple, Bhubaneshwar

Above photo: For over 700 years, the Anant Basudev temple in Bhubaneshwar has cooked food in their temple kitchen and offered it to the temple gods. There were wars, famines, fires and many other calamities during these 700 years, but the temple never once shut down its kitchen. This temple built in the 13th century overlooks the Bindu Sagar lake and is just a stone’s throw away from the famous Lingaraj temple.

Vibrant looking Goti Pua Dancers of Raghurajpur

Above photo: Present day Odissi classical dance forms have been influenced by this dance form that originates in the village of Raghurajpur and where boys dress as girls and show a combination of grace, strength and acrobatics through their dance. Gotipua, which means ‘single boy’ in Odia language, is a traditional dance form of Odisha where young boys dress as women to praise Lord Jagannath and Lord Krishna.

Tarakasi artisan in one of the old areas of Cuttack, Odisha, India

Above photo: More than 500 years old, Tarakasi is a type of silver filigree work that flourishes in the old parts of Cuttack even today. Rich in patterns, Tarakasi jewellery specializes in necklaces, toe rings, anklets and arm jewellery. Based on mythological themes and traditional designs, they are heavily sought after by temples and pandals to decorate their gods, by Odissi dancers and during marriage functions.

Saora art depicted at the entrance of Tribal Art Museum, Bhubaneshwar

Above photo: Odisha is land of many indigenous communities or tribes and each tribe adds a bit of rich heritage to this state. Like the famous Madhubani art from Bihar and the Warli art of Maharashtra, the Saura (Saora) tribe of Odisha, considered to be among the most ancient tribes of India, have their own unique art form that is referred to as Saura art. Saura art uses clear geometric frames and shapes, natural dyes and raw materials that they can find in the earth around them. Originally used to paint the walls of their homes, they were use extensively in festivals and cultural occasions. Today, they can be found in everything from T shirts to wall hangings, mugs, lamp shades and more.

Beautiful carvings at 7th Century Parasurameswar Temple, Bhubaneshwar, Odisha

Above photo: When you go on your Bhubaneshwar heritage walk, you will walk through a maze of temples. Apparently, these temples were like prototypes before the final work product. You will notice many small temples next to the finished and more prominent one. You will see this trend at Muktesvara, Raja Rani, Linggaraj and Parasurameswar temples. Such practice ensures that the final temple is a work of true class. See for yourself in this beautifully sculpted wall of the 7th century Parasurameswar temple.

Boat at Odisha State Maritime Museum, Cuttack

Above photo: Many of you would not know, but Kalinga was considered a gateway to the east in the 3rd to 1st century BC, thanks to the maritime ambitions of King Ashoka and the Maurya and Kalinga empires. The kings used it for maritime trade then. Buddhism spread far and wide thanks to this maritime trade. Then, the British got on to that maritime bandwagon. And we continue to utilize it even today. Paradip and Gopalpur on sea are some of the main port locations. In Cuttack’s Odisha State Maritime Museum that was opened in 1869, you can see all of this rich maritime history right from the days of King Ashoka and how it has been documented in all the religious scripts and documentation of that era.

Famous Rasagola of Pahala, Odisha

Above photo: For a very long time, I thought West Bengal was the home of the Rasgulla, till I visited Pahala and learnt of its rich history with chenna based products, especially Chenna Gaja, Chenna Poda and Rasgulla. Even though, this is in dispute, there is a lot of folklore and history that says that Odisha’s first Rasgulla was made at Pahala. West Bengal’s Rasgulla is different from the one made in Odisha and is considered to be a variation of the Odisha Rasgulla. You have to try out these milk based desserts for an authentic Odisha holiday experience.

Tala Patra painting created by one of the artisans of Raghurajpur, Odisha

Above photo: Most of our ancient scripts in India have been written on palm leaves. After all, this leaf and the inscriptions on it are believed to exist for many centuries. The artisans of Raghurajpur too use palm leaves, a blunt metal pencil and soot to make beautiful paintings. These paintings are called Tala Patra or Tadopatra and are believed to withstand the true test of time. Mythological stories from Hinduism and Buddhism are usually portrayed here.

Ruins of stupas and viharas of 7th century Udaygiri Buddhist Civilization, Odisha

Above photo: Along with Lalitgiri and Ratnagiri, Udaygiri forms the Pushpagiri Buddhist university. In this picture, you can see the ruins of Udayagiri with living quarters for the monks, meditation rooms, large school premises, a well laid out drainage system and a stepwell to draw water. Some of these ancient brick structures have withstood the test of time and are a treat for all heritage lovers.

Udayagiri Caves - an ancient cave temple marvel of Odisha

Above photo: Udayagiri caves near Bhubaneshwar are home to some of the oldest living cave temples of India. Dating back to 2nd century BC, both Udayagiri and Khandagiri that is right opposite it, is made up of finely ornate and well sculpted figures. They were initially built as residence for Jain ascetics during the reign of King Kharavela.

The man who makes Papier mache toys, Raghurajpur, Odisha

Above photo: Along with Patta chita, Tala Patra and Goti Pua, Raghurajpur is home to yet another handicraft. There are a group of artisans who make toys and small figures with papier mache, waste products and cow dung. Faces of gods are the usual theme, but sometimes regular birds and animals are also made using these raw materials. Once the product is done and ready, it is then colored using natural dyes.

Odissi Dance Performance during Times Passion Trails Evening Dinner

Above photo: You cannot come to Odisha and not watch a traditional Odissi classical dance performance. The grace with which they enact Krishna Leela and Ram Leela is a treat for the eyes. In case you didn’t know already, this is an ancient dance form and is believed to have originated in the Hindu temples of Odisha. If you watch closely, you will notice that many sculptures of dancers in these temples are in this dance position.

Plaque at birth place of Netaji Subash Chandra Bose, Cuttack

Above photo: Did you know that Netaji Subash Chandra Bose was born in Cuttack? We all know his Bengali roots, his fight for freedom, his revolutionary thoughts and his skills in money, law, articulation, flying and strategy. All of this started in Cuttack where he was born. Today, his birth home is preserved as a museum and shows various facets of his life.

The stories of Lord Ganesha depicted through the Patta Chitra miniature art of Raghurajpur

Above photo: One of Odisha’s best handicrafts, you can say that I have kept the best for the last. Pattachitra is that 2500 year old art form that once began for the gods and then evolved in so much more. Stories of Ganesha, Shiva, Krishna, Rama, Durga, Buddha and so many others have been made on this hand made cloth using colors and products that are found naturally in the land of Odisha. These paintings can last for hundreds of years without losing even a bit of their brilliance. Today, the Pattachitra enjoys iconic status and they are even replicated on silk sarees for custom orders and marriages.

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Saturday, February 09, 2019

Sun Temple of Modhera, Gujarat: Pride of India

Modhera Sun Temple - rich Indian heritage

It precedes the extraordinary Konark Sun temple of Odisha (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) by over 200 years. It has withstood the test of time, elements and many attacks. And still, it stands tall and bears testament to our rich past where we were technologically advanced, exceled in engineering, vaastu, design, astronomy, geography, optics, physics, water harvesting and so much more. And all this happened in the 10th and 11th century when a stunning piece of design and architecture was created right on the Tropic of Cancer line. I am talking about the majestic Sun temple that is located in a small village called Modhera in the Mahesana district of North West Gujarat.

About the above video: A detailed walkthrough of the absolutely beautiful Modhera Sun Temple. The video is ~8 minutes of creative gorgeousness from the 10th century. I have tried to capture all the various facets to give you a good look and feel of this stunning temple. Do mute if you don’t like my voice over, though I think if you listen, you will get to know a lot more about one of India’s rich heritage gems.

Exquisite 10th century Modhera Sun Temple of Gujarat

India has so much rich history and culture that begs to be explored, experienced and appreciated. The Modhera Sun temple, even though it does not carry a UNESCO World Heritage site tag, is one such place that deserves to be on the radar of all temple, art, history and culture lovers. After all, such monuments are our pride and we should see them and get to know more about them so that we can proudly talk about our rich heritage with our family, friends and the rest of the world.

The stunning sun temple at Modhera, Gujarat

Temple History and its connection with Solar Calendar

Built during the reign of Bhima I of the Chalukya dynasty in the 10th century, the Modhera Sun temple is dedicated to the sun god and its design revolves around the solar calendar. For example, it has 365 elephants at its base, which denotes the 365 days in a year. Then, there are 52 intricately carved pillars in the Sabhamandapa or assembly hall, which denotes the 52 weeks in a year. Then, circumventing the temple complex are 12 statues of the sun god denoting the different aspects of Surya in each month of the year. And it denotes the various gods and goddesses based on the directions they represent. For example, Lord of fire (Agni) in South East, Lord of wind (Vayu) in North West, Lord of water (Varuna or Indra) in the West and so on. Each minute element of this temple design pays heed to the directions, the play of light (sun light in different months of the year), vaastu and visual appeal.

Surya Kung at Modhera Sun Temple, Gujarat

Temple Design and Surya Kund
The temple complex is built in Maru-Gurjara or Chalukya style where it has three axially aligned components; the main shrine (garbhagriha) in a hall (gudhamandapa), the assembly hall (sabhamandapa) in front of it and the sacred Surya kund (reservoir) in front of it. As soon as you enter the temple complex after getting your tickets, you will walk through a green space that first leads to this massive Surya Kund or temple reservoir that has 108 small temples representing the auspicious 108 number of Rudraksha beads. Historically, people would take a bath in this Surya Kund, offer their prayer to the gods in these 108 temples before making their way to the main garbhagriha through the Sabhamantapa.

Photographing the beautiful Modhera Sun Temple


The sabhamantapa, whose steps are connected to the Surya Kund is a structure that is separate from that of the main Sun temple. Every corner of this assembly hall is a visual delight. Every bit of it from the base mouldings, wall mouldings to the ceiling and pillars are intricately carved and ornamented with floral designs, figures of dancers and gods and a whole bunch of mythological stories. Small gatherings and dance performances were organized here and there are many elevated platforms where you could sit and watch these performances.

The exquisite beauty called Modhera Sun Temple

Now, the main temple complex is made up of two parts; garbhagriha or sanctum sanctorum and gudhamandapa or the outer complex of the temple.

Local woman dressed in colorful saree visits Modhera Sun Temple with her family


There are two important features of this garbhagriha. One, on solar equinox days (September 22-23 known as September Equinox and March 20-21 known as March Equinox), the first rays of the rising sun fall directly on the diamond located on the head of the statue of Lord Surya and then this light would bounce off the walls to illuminate the entire sanctum sanctorum. Second, on summer solstice day (June 20-21 also known as June solstice), the sun shines directly above the temple at noon casting no shadow. These precise calculations were made 1,200 years ago when the understanding of optics, stars, earth’s revolution and mathematics were limited and a lot of the world as we know today were hunter gatherers. Pretty astounding, right? This diamond can be now found in a museum in London.

Intricate carvings overload - Modhera Sun Temple, Gujarat


Unlike the garbhagriha, which is pretty plain in design, every inch of the Gudhamandapa is intricately carved. The base moulding has two square members followed by a cymarecta carving (lower part convex and upper part concave). Then, there is the inverted lotus (padma) above it and then the antarita and chhaja. Then, there is the layer of elephants and then figures of men. The wall moulding or mandovara starts with kumbha, kalasha, kevala, manchi and jangha. Then there are the figures of dancers, gods and others. The figures of the Sun god holding lotuses in his arms and driven by his seven horses are the most prominent of all the figures. There are 12 such prominent figures of the sun god, denoting him in each month (from Mesh (Aries) to Meena (Pisces). And just below and beside the Sun god are the figures of other gods – Vishwakarma, Varuna, Agni, Ganesha, Saraswati, etc. based on the directions that they represent.

Beautiful arch at Modhera Sun Temple, Gujarat

Then, there is a victory arch like elevated building on the North East corner of the temple (Isana direction). This would have been the main entrance point to the temple, but as it is in ruins today, most visitors visit from the East direction, which first leads to the Surya Kund and then to the assembly hall and the main temple.

Entering the sun temple of Modhera, Gujarat

As you can see from the images and the video, the Modhera Sun temple is an absolute delight and I think one visit is not enough to understand its true beauty and history. Do avail the services of a knowledgeable guide to understand and appreciate its history, design and engineering marvels better. Each figure, figurine, statue, carving and design elements adds to its aura and the overall effect can be quite overwhelming. It is best to do a bit of reading about this place before you go there so that you can ask all the right questions to your guide. This temple finds mention in the Skanda and Brahma Purana and in a whole bunch of other literary texts and definitely a lot on the web as a lot of people have researched, learnt and documented the history, culture and heritage of this place.

Surya Kund and Modhera Sun Temple

And when you are there, try to see and understand the various elements of vaastu, optics, earth’s rotation, solar calendar, engineering, water harvesting and design at different sections of this architectural marvel. Modhera Sun Temple is bound to leave you spellbound and speechless! It is a rich part of our heritage and the pride of all us Indians!

Kids all smiles at Modhera Sun Temple

How to reach Modhera Sun Temple:

The nearest international and domestic airport is Ahmedabad. Modhera is about a 2 hour drive from Ahmedabad.

A lot of long distance train options can be found at Ahmedabad, but the closest major railway station would be Mahesana. A lot of trains traveling north of Ahmedabad pass through this railway station.

The nearest bus station would also be Mahesana. Mahesana to Modhera is about 25 kms and it takes about 30 minutes if you are driving.

It is best to have your own mode of transportation for last mile connectivity.

The stunning heritage Modhera Sun Temple, Gujarat

Where to stay:

If you are looking for luxury, it is best to stay at Ahmedabad and explore the Modhera Sun temple as a day trip from Ahmedabad. If budget to mid range accommodation works fine, you can either stay at Mahesana or Patan and then make a short 45 minute drive to Modhera. If rural stays are your thing, look up the homestays on AirBnB that are run by the rural women of Gujarat along with AirBnB and a local NGO.

10th Century Modhera Sun Temple of Gujarat


7 AM to 6 PM. It is best to reach the temple just before 7 AM in case you wish to photograph the beautiful facets and sculptures of the temple in the soft golden glow of the morning light.

A Gujarati woman dressed in traditional attire explores the Modhera Sun Temple

Nearby Tourist Attractions:

1) Rani Ki Vav, the queen of stepwells at Patan

2) The 900 year Patola saree being made at Patan

3) The Heritage town of Siddhpur

4) India’s only UNESCO World Heritage city of Ahmedabad

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Friday, February 08, 2019

Ahmedabad’s Vishalla Restaurant: Lip Smacking Gujarati Food served in a Rustic Setting

Vishalla Restaurant - the best place to taste authentic Gujarati fare in Ahmedabad

A trip to Ahmedabad isn’t complete without tasting some of its traditional food. If you ask me, Gujarati cuisine has to be one of the better ones in the world of Indian gastronomy. In one of my earlier posts, I had talked about Chandravilas restaurant, a 120 year old restaurant located in the heritage city of Ahmedabad for your pick of traditional Gujarati breakfast. This article is for those traditional Gujarati lunches and dinners in the city of Ahmedabad. And the place that I want to talk about is Vishalla Restaurant, traditionally themed and that serves Gujarati heaven in a true rustic setting.

Antique Utensils Museum at Vishalla, Ahmedabad

Communal eating style, in-house cow farms, vegetable and fruit produce procured straight from the farmers and a menu to die for are some of the trump cards of Vishalla restaurant. And all of this is served in a lovely green space that is beautifully done up with mud huts, thatched roofs, traditional utensils, environment friendly practices and a super hospital staff decked up in rustic style clothing. It is the kind of place where you are transported to gastronomic heaven with every bite. It is that kind of place that should be visited by every food lover in Ahmedabad. It is that kind of place where you arrive for brunch and leave late after dinner.

Traditional Gujarati Lunch at Vishalla Restaurant, Ahmedabad

The Gujarati Thali is the main attraction to be experienced here. Costing about 650 rupees per plate, it is only recommended to those who can pack a serious appetite as it consists of everything from bhakri, Bajri na rotla, Makai na Rotla, Khichdi, Thepla, Kadhi, Farsan, Shak, chutneys, salads and sweets and that can knock you out for a good many hours. If you cannot handle the mighty Thali, you can opt for any of the above through the a-la-carte menu. The quantity is still very decent and the price is a bit lower. If you love milk products, don’t miss out their lassi, butter milk and fresh tea as their in-house cows make the taste legendary. If you have a sweet tooth, you can try anything from Sukhdi, shiro, Jalebi, Gulab Jamun, Churma Ladoo, Gaajar na Halvo, Handvo, Doodhi na Halvo to Kopra Pak and Magas Ladoo. Each item is bound to take you to the stars and back.

The celebrities who have dined at Vishalla Restaurant of Ahmedabad

The price is a bit on the higher side, but the quality and taste is un-paralleled and hence I think it is total value for money. The makkhan (white butter) made in-house from the milk of the cows in their farm is possibly the best makkhan I have had in many years. And each item from the menu that I had made me croon with joy. And hence it is of no wonder that esteemed personalities like Narendra Modi, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh and many others have visited this place. And all of them have sat cross legged in these mud huts and enjoyed the Gujarati food specialties without any air-conditioning or other modern day luxuries that we crave for these days. Such is the aura of the food served here! So, the next time you visit India’s only UNESCO World Heritage city of Ahmedabad, do remember to drop in to Vishalla restaurant for lunch or dinner. You won’t be disappointed.

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Thursday, February 07, 2019

Nest in Vagamon Homestay: Simple Home for your Mountain Holiday

A typical Vagamon landscape

Vagamon is that offbeat hill station of Kerala where rolling hills meet tea estates. It is that mountain holiday destination where things are quiet, laidback and pristine and hence perfect for that truly unwinding holiday. In such a place, you do not want to stay in hotels or guest houses, but in homestays. During my visit there, I stayed at this newly opened homestay called Nest in Vagamon and it was simple, hospitable, a little bit away from the city center and blessed with great mountain views. Here is my detailed review of this property based on my recent experience.

1) The Nest in Vagamon homestay is your Kerala home where the family lives on the ground floor and there are a couple of rooms on the first floor with their own private balconies looking at the lush mountain landscape. One of the rooms, which is slightly larger than the other costs INR 1200 per night, while the other marginally smaller room costs INR 1000 per night. Each room comes with a double bed, some space for an extra bed, a few chairs, a fan and an attached bathroom with hot shower. The facilities are basic, but the atmosphere is fresh and is good value for the money we spend.

2) If informed beforehand, the Kerala family running this homestay can prepare hot beverages and traditional meals at an additional cost. The town center with all the restaurants is just a 10 minute walk away in case you wish for more options.

The lush green tea estates of Vagamon, Kerala

3) One of my favorite things to do at this homestay is to sit on the stone sills in the balcony with a hot cup of tea and watch the mountain life go by. This place is also great during the night to look at the star lit sky. This is also a great place to indulge in some reading.

4) If you like quiet mountain walks, Nest in Vagamon homestay offers quite a few options. As it is closer to the village than to the town, you can explore the various village trails. There is a small peak nearby that you can walk to for those early morning misty sunrise views. And then there is a lake about 10 minutes away for a quiet getaway. You can also embark on those long hikes over the rolling hills and through the pine forests, valley and streams.

5) If you hire a cycle or a motorcycle or even a local autorickshaw, you can head to the different view points and tourist attractions, which are about 6 to 10 kms from the homestay.

The rolling hills of Vagamon, Kerala

6) Phone connectivity is a bit poor at this place. BSNL works well, but Airtel is patchy. There is no wi-fi here, which is a blessing in disguise.

If you are looking for a simple budget home for your offbeat mountain holiday to Vagamon, look up Nest in Vagamon. Its charm lies in its simplicity. For booking the rooms, please call them at 94962 22796 or 94464 89459.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Patan Patola Sari: 900 years of History and a Status Symbol

Patola sarees being woven the ancient way at Patan, Gujarat

The fashion industry is quite well developed these days. There is no paucity of creative options, be it colours, patterns, fabrics, shapes, weave designs and digital prints, we seem to have it all. The fashion design schools, the technology, the modernization and the overall textile industry have aided to this cause. The surprising thing is that this very fashion industry used to thrive even 900 to 1000 years back. They made patterns, designs, colors and weaves that will rival any garment produced today. And all of these were made purely by hand.

Weaving of Patola sarees in action at Patan, Gujarat

I am talking about the legendary Patola saris whose designs can be found in the paintings inside Ajanta caves, that were considered a sign of royalty by the queens and the monarchs from 11th century onwards and that is considered a major source of fashion all over the world. Considered to be created by god and that protects one from evil and ill health, they were treasured by the rich and royalty of Thailand, Malaysia, Thailand, Samarkhand, Basra, Damask and all the way till Rome. In India, Patola saris are gifted to daughters and daughter in-laws on the occasion of their marriages as a sign of good omen and they are usually worn on holy days. And they find mention in many literary texts, narratives, folk songs, traveler diaries and other documented pieces of history right from the 14th century.

The 1000 old weaving heritage of Patan - Patola

All of this started when the silk weavers of the Salvi caste from Maharashtra and Karnataka were invited by King Kumarpal of the Solanki dynasty in the 12th century to settle in Patan, the then capital of Gujarat. Even though, these weavers were making their craft since the 11th century, they really got a chance to hone their skills at Patan under the able supervision and help of the Solanki king. And thus the era of the Patan Patola sari began. This Patola sari was used to decorate the gods in the temples, it was used to gift to kings and queens and it continues to remain extremely popular as a premium wedding and designer garment even today.

The patola saree artisan of Patan, Gujarat

The Patola is a double ikat weave with no reverse side that has its origins in a very intricate and difficult technique of tie dying or knot dyeing known as the Bandhani process on the wrap and weft separately before weaving. These patola saris, completely handmade using pure silk and natural dyes in traditional Patola looms, are famous for their gem like colors, designs and durability. Usually, a saree takes anywhere between 6 to 12 months to create and their price starts at 2.5 lakh rupees. The colors, designs and shapes in the motifs of this Patola sari hold important meanings and they make the Patola as special as the double ikat weave itself. The feeling of saubhagya and security are imbibed into the Patola using the symbols of elephant, parrot, peacock, Kalas (jug), the human left and the square designs respectively. And not just that, these Patola saris are so durable that some of them have stood the test of centuries just like our monuments.

The Patola saris of Patan are a true showcase of our glorious, rich and ancient heritage in textiles. We certainly need to experience, preserve and relish this rich culture of ours. So, if you are a connoisseur of fine textiles, then this ancient fabric from the north western region of Gujarat is certainly bound to appeal to you. Go pay a visit to Patan and see it being made in the traditional, authentic and ancient way. And if you like it and can afford the price tag, bring back a piece of this 900 year old textile into your home, family and life!

How to reach Patan: Patan is about 120 kms and 2 to 3 hours by road from Ahmedabad. The nearest airport and long distance railway station would be Ahmedabad.

Where to stay: For luxury hotels, stay at Ahmedabad and do day trips. For budget options, opt for Patan. And if you feel like authentic homestay, opt for the homestays that are run by traditional Gujarati women in their villages and that can be booked on AirBnB.

Where to experience the Authentic Patola Sari: A lot of people claim to make the Patola sari, but most of them are made using machines, cheap fabrics and chemical dyes. For the true experience, go to Patan Patola heritage museum on Rani Ki Vav road in Patan. Ask for Shilguru Vinayak K Salvi, the national award winner. You can reach out to him at 02766 232274/75, 02766 231369, +91 98987 75748 or +91 99794 62607.

Nearby Tourist Attractions: The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Rani Ki Vav, the famous Modhera Sun Temple, the heritage town of Siddhpur and the UNESCO World Heritage City of Ahmedabad.

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Monday, February 04, 2019

Ponmudi: That Offbeat Hill Station of Kerala with a 360 Degree Mountain Panorama

A special Ponmudi Hill station panorama

22 gorgeous hairpin bends, a lush forest drive, stunning views of shola forests and a markedly cooler clime takes you to possibly one of the best panoramas in the Western Ghats. The winding drive filled with greenery and views is a treat for the motorcycle enthusiast and the road tripper. The tall mountains and the tropical forests are a treat for the trekker and the nature lover. It is the southern most hill station in the Western Ghats and rivals other popular ones like Munnar due to its richness and beauty.

The scenic drive to Kerala's Ponmudi hill station

I am talking about Ponmudi, the land of mountains, valleys, forests and plantations. It is a hotspot of biodiversity and is an essential cog for the survival of the people of South India. More than 50% of Western Ghats’ butterfly species are found here. More than 50% of Kerala’s bird species are found here. Likewise with reptiles and amphibians.

Shola forests seen enroute to Ponmudi hill station of Kerala

Running contiguous with the Agastyamalai biosphere reserve and the wildlife sanctuaries of Peppara, Neyyar and Shendurney, Ponmudi eco reserve along with these other biosphere regions is the birthplace of many rivers. It runs parallel to the Arabian Sea and it shares its borders with Agastyarkoodam, the highest peak South of the Cardamom hills and one of the highest peaks in the Western Ghats.

Road trip to Ponmudi hill station - a green paradise

Ponmudi, which literally means golden crown, is the place to be if you are a trekker, motorcycle enthusiast, camper, bird watcher, butterfly lover, wildlife enthusiast, ecology researcher, nature lover or simply a hill station lover. At just a few hours from Kerala’s capital, it offers easy access to avenues that are hardly found so close to a major Indian city.

A pit stop during a motorcycle ride through India's Deep South

You can head there if you feel like a whiff of fresh air. You can head there just for a short drive or a picnic. But, it is best, when you stay inside and explore its charms. Every season brings out different characters of the mountains and forests here. Some months are when you see millions of butterflies here. The monsoons liven up the atmosphere like no other and the shades of green in the Western Ghats during the monsoon months are legendary. Monsoons are also best for treks and for misty mountain top views. Winters are best to see the entire landscape and to enjoy the 360 degree panorama. And summers are great for watching rich wildlife like elephants, leopards, tigers, lion-tailed macaques, Nilgiri langurs and others.

The gorgeous countryside of Kerala

Ponmudi eco tourism zone is as pristine an environment as any. It is completely a plastic free zone and a lot of checks have been kept in place by the forest department to ensure that no trash or plastic is brought into this place. Offenders are dealt quite strictly if they are caught breaking the rules and I think this is a healthy sign in preserving this sensitive ecosystem.

Scenic mountain highway to Ponmudi hill station, Kerala

So, if you are looking for an offbeat hill station for your next mountain holiday that is  a hotspot of biodiversity and that provides some of the best panoramic views in the Western Ghats, Kerala’s Ponmudi hill station is the place for you. It is one of those hidden charms of India’s deep south and definitely one of the lesser explored regions of Kerala.

The beautiful ghats roads leading to Ponmudi hill station, Kerala

How to reach Ponmudi:

At about 60 kms away, Thiruvanthapuram is the nearest domestic and international airport. It is also the nearest large railway station with good train connectivity from all over the country. It would also be the nearest hub for long distance buses.

A pit stop right at the foot of the Western Ghats of South Tamil Nadu

Where to stay:

If you are opting for a day trip, you could stay at any of the hotels in Thiruvanathapuram or at any of the homestay options in the nearby countryside. If you have more time, I would recommend that you stay inside the Ponmudi eco tourism zone. Bookings can be made through the Ponmudi eco tourism forest department website.

Enjoying the mountain panorama at Ponmudi, Kerala

What can you do here:

Apart from a road trip, relaxing and enjoying the views, one can go on treks here, chsse butterflies, indulge in birdwatching, wildlife spotting and play in the many waterbodies here.

Photographing the beauty of the Southern Western Ghats at Ponmudi

Nearby Attractions:

1) The Cliff beach of Varkala, one of the popular beach destinations of Kerala

2) Punalur – Shenkottai mountain railways, the lesser known mountain railways of Kerala

3) Kanyakumari, India’s southern most destination

4) Poovar Island, a romantic gem in Kerala

5) Meenmutty waterfalls, Kalar river and Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary

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