Monday, January 20, 2020

Burma’s Bago: Fabulous Temple Day Trip from Yangon

Sleeping Buddha at Bago, Burma

One of the things that I absolutely love about Burma is its friendly people and their laidback lifestyle. It is as much an integral part of this country as are its temples. And the experience gets even richer when you get to combine both the two.

The very beautiful Mahazeti Pagoda at Bago, Burma

The world knows about the charms of Bagan and that of Yangon, Burma’s erstwhile capital and largest city. But, there is one other place where you get to experience the beauty of temples along with local fervour. One such place is Bago, a lovely temple town located just a couple of hours away from Yangon in the Iyyerawaddy region of Myanmar.

Burmese Girl with Thanaka on her face at Bago, Burma

The Bago experience begins right when you board the rickety-rackety train headed towards Bago from the center of Yangon. You travel with the locals, see how they go about their day-to-day life, you meet monks, you see kids going to school and most of all, you see bright faces with big smiles and an eagerness to interact with you. This two hour long journey with its vibrant local experiences sets the tone for your Bago city day trip from Yangon.

Monks outside ShweTha Lyuang Temple, Bago, Burma

Once you arrive at Bago railway station, you will be following a temple route interspersed with some local shopping and food breaks. The key temples on this route are:

1) The Sleeping Buddha – a massive statue of the Buddha in sleeping position.

2) The Mahazeti Pagoda – one that offers the best views of the Bago temple landscape.

3) Shwe Tha Lyuang Temple – At a length of 55 metres and a height of 16 metres, this temple is home to the second largest Buddha in the world. It is also home to the smiling Buddha.

4) Reclining Buddha – the temple that is known for its beautiful inscriptions.

5) Shwe Maw Daw Pagoda – this is the tallest pagoda in the whole of Burma.

6) Kyaik Pun Pagoda – the 4 Faced Buddha Temple.

Inscriptions on the feet of the reclining Buddha at Bago, Burma

Out of these temples, my favorite temple for sunrise or sunset is the Mahazeti Pagoda as this allows you to get an aerial view of the Bago temple landscape (they close the climb to the top during the rainy months) and my favorite temple for action is the Shwe Tha Lyuang temple. It is here that you can see religious and spiritual fervour, local shopping action and opportunities to taste some delicious local food.

Bago Landscape dotted with Pagodas

Irrespective of the temple you visit, you will find that people are always hospitable, friendly and eager to interact with you and you will find religious zeal and peace almost at each place. You could take the experience up a notch by wearing a longyi and applying some thanaka on your face.

Smiling Buddha at Shwe Tha Lyuang Temple, Bago, Burma

The temples of Bago offer a fabulous day trip from Yangon and is much recommended. Do remember to take the local train at least one way for the richness of local interactions. The temples here have lots and lots of charisma. Do give yourself some time to experience it.

Longyi Shop at Bago, Burma

Things to carry with you:

1) A bottle of water as there involves a lot of walking in the open sun.

2) A pair of sunglasses to protect you from the glare.

3) Slip on footwear that you can wear and remove easily at all temples.

4) A camera to capture all the temples and the local atmosphere.

Bago's Shwe Maw Daw Pagoda

How to get there:

You can either drive, take a bus or take a train to Yangon. The journey (one way) should take between 2 to 3 hours.

Shwe Maw Daw Pagoda in Bago - the tallest in Burma

My favorite is the train journey as it allows you to travel from the heart of Yangon to the heart of Bago while experiencing colonial era meter gauge trains, the life of a local Burmese person and for lots of interesting local conversations. The train ticket is very cheap, can be bought directly at the train station and there are usually lots of seats to be found if you reach the station about 20 minutes prior to departure.

A Hand Crafted Bag Store at Shwe Tha Lyuang Temple, Bago, Burma

Where to stay:

If you wish to stay in Bago, I would recommend heading to the main road in S/Zainganaing Qr for a lot of options.

Due to Bago’s close proximity to Yangon, one can stay at Yangon and visit Bago as part of a day trip. And Yangon has a wide range of options when it comes to accommodation.

Where to eat:

There are small places to eat right in front of Shwe Maw Daw Pagoda and the Shwe Tha Lyuang temple, but if you feel like eating at a proper restaurant, then head to the main road in S/Zainganaing Qr for a lot of options.

Four faced Buddha Temple at Bago, Burma

Other must see attractions:

1) Yangon, the erstwhile capital of Burma, Burma’s largest city and that offers a beautiful mix of colonial history, local culture and gorgeous temples

2) The pottery town of Twante on the Ayyerawaddy delta

Burmese Buddhist History depicted on the wall of the Shwe Tha Lyuang Temple, Bago, Burma

3) Bagan: The ancient land of temples in Central Myanmar

4) Inle Lake: The floating life of Burma that is home to many unique cultures, handicrafts and hydroponic farming

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Yana Rocks and Caves: Magical Place in the forests of Karnataka

The Mohini rock at Yana as seen from the Yana trail, Uttara Kannada, Karnataka

It is one of the wettest places in the world. It is a hotspot of biodiversity in the Sahyadri mountain range of the Western Ghats. It is one of the cleanest villages in South India. It is a spiritual and religious location with a swayambhu lingam. And it is a natural wonder too. I am talking about the massive limestone karst rock outcrops that tower in the middle of dense green forests of the Western Ghats near Yana village in the Uttara Kannada region of Karnataka.

Yana Mohini rock as seen from the Bhairava temple

Referred to as Yana rocks, these rocks tower between 300 and 400 feet amidst the green landscape. Even though, these rocks can be seen at many places here, the two most popular ones also happen to be the largest and the tallest ones. Bhairaveshwara Shikhara stands 390 feet high, while Mohini shikhara stands 300 feet tall. These weather beaten rocks form eerie shapes due to corrosion and have caves inside them due to underwater springs and the rain effect. One such cave is home to the swayambhu linga (formed by stalagmites and stalactites) and around this lingam is formed the Bhairaveshwara temple.

A view from inside the Yana cave system, Uttara Kannada, Karnataka

This Bhairaveshwara temple, located at the bottom of this massive black limestone karst rock, is extremely popular with locals especially during festivals (Shivaratri) and for divine ablutions. Both these rocks are steeped in legends and rich culture. As an outsider, it takes a while to understand this culture, but you can certainly admire one of mother nature’s stupendous creations. While the insides of the caves are home to endemic bats and swallows, the top of the rocks are home to raptors and the surrounding forests are home to a wide array of wildlife that include colorful butterflies, tigers, leopards, sloth bears, king cobras, macaques and so much more.

The Bhairava Yana rock that towers close to 400 feet high

For a regular tourist, Yana offers everything from forest walks, birdwatching, pristine nature, interesting rock formations and even wildlife sightings. To a technical rock climber, Yana offers some of the best crags and rock climbs in Karnataka. To a researcher, Yana is home to an endless list of flora, fauna and medicinal herbs. To a pilgrim, Yana offers the chance to absolve themselves of their sins.

Mohini Yana rock and the Bhairava temple entrance

As you can see, Yana has multiple facets to it that appeal to all kinds of people. To me, it is an eerily magical place in the forests of Karnataka that begs many visits, each one exploring a different side to it. A must visit place for nature lovers, trekkers and rock climbers!

The dense green Yana jungle trail

Best time to visit:

The monsoons are the best time to visit Yana if you wish to see the forests in its full splendour. However, heavy rains are not everyone’s cup of tea and hence the post monsoon and winter season is ideal for all kinds of visitors. Even though Yana can be technically explored all year around, it can quite quite hot and humid during the summer months.

Inside the Yana caves, Uttara Kannada, Karnataka

How to reach there:

The nearest airport would be Hubli, though Goa International airport and Bangalore international airport offer the best pan India connectivity.

Hubli, Ankola and Kumta would be your nearest railway stations.

Sirsi, Gokarna and Kumta would be your best bets when it comes to bus stations.

If you are driving from Gokarna, the route would be Gokarna –> Andle –> Onibail –> Santepete –> Markal –> Hillur –> Achave –> Mabagi –> Yana Caves

If you are driving from Kumta, the route would be Kumta –> Divgi –> Antravalli –> Devimani Ghat –> Khurse –> Manjaguni –> Devanahalli –> Yana cross –> Yana Caves

If you are driving from Sirsi, the route would be Sirsi –> Kalkuni –> Hegdekatta –> Devenahalli –> Yana cross –> Yana Caves

Yana limestone karsts stand out amidst dense jungle

Where to stay:

If you prefer homestays, there are quite a few options in the Sirsi-Yellapur region. My favorite is Tavuramane homestay, a fantastic rustic destination surrounded by pristine greenery.

If you prefer luxurious resorts, opt for the ones near Gokarna, Yellapur or Dandeli.

For simple hotels, Sirsi, Yellapur, Dandeli and Gokarna offer good options.

For beach stays, look for properties in and around Gokarna.

The densely vegetated trail around the Yana rocks

Where to eat:

There are small stalls at the entrance and near the caves where you can manage to find basic food like eggs, biscuits, tea, coffee, etc.

The nearest restaurant where you can find a meal is at Mabagi village, about 3 kms away.

If you want better places to eat, then you will have to try out the restaurants in either Sirsi, Kumta or Gokarna. Each of these places should be about 60 to 90 minutes from Yana rocks depending on road conditions.

It is best to have some food and water with you at all times due to lack of eating options in the vicinity.

The jungle trail that leads to the twin rocks of Yana

Nearby tourist attractions:

1) Vibhooti Falls - a beautiful jungle waterfall with a swimming pool

2) Magod Falls – one of the most magnificent waterfalls in Uttara Kannada

3) Sathodi Falls – Karnataka’s prettiest jungle waterfall

4) Shivapura hanging bridge – a suspension bridge on the river Kali

5) Unchalli Falls – one of the tallest waterfalls in Karnataka

6) Arbail ghat – one of the wettest places in Karnataka

7) Beaches of Kumta, Ankola and Gokarna