2020 - Be On The Road | Live your Travel Dream!

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Panchalingeswara Temple at Govindanahalli: Only Surviving Panchakuta temple from Hoysala era

The Nandi view of Panchalingeshwara Temple

It is an offbeat Hoysala temple gem just three hours from Bangalore. This 13th century temple is one of the rare surviving Panchakuta temples from the Hoysala era. The famous sculptor, Ruvari Mallitamma, is known to have made contributions to this temple. I am talking about the Panchalingeshwara temple located in the village of Govindanahally in south-interior Karnataka.

A Motorcycle ride to Panchalingeshwara Temple, Govindanahalli

Set in a sleepy little village called Govindanahalli, the Panchalingeshwara temple is surrounded by lush farmland and coconut plantations and located right in front of it is the Govindanahalli lake. Unlike other Hoysala temples, this temple is built directly on the ground without the pedestal and its outer walls are fairly simple and it does not have edge to edge carvings like the other Hoysala temples. There are carvings and sculptures, but not a whole lot.

Panchalingeswara Temple Nandi view

Facing east, it has five shrines dedicated to Lord Shiva that run north to south. The garbhagrihas (sanctum sanctorum) of all 5 shrines are connected to a common mantapa by a vestibule with sukanasi above. A long pillared hall connects the mantapa with two porched entrances whose ceiling are supported by lathe turned pillars. Each of these porched entrances have two intricately carved nandi statues. There are 3 other nandi statues inside the mantapa, but these statues are simple and plain.

Danching Ganesha at Panchalingeswara Temple, Govindanahalli

Apart from the eye catching Nandi statues, the porched entrance has 2 sets of beautifully carved dwarapalakas. These dwarapalakas stand tall on either side of the entrances to the mantapa, while the nandi stands opposite to them and faces the door. These dwarapalakas along with the carved nandi statues are the top highlight of the Panchalingeshwara temple at Govindanahalli. Inside the temple, each shrine contains one shiva lingam. These five different manifestations of Lord Shiva are called Sadyojata, Tatpurusha, Vamadeva, Aghora and Ishana. And you can also see carvings of Gaja Lakshmi at the entrances to the Garbha griha along with a set of low relief dwarapalas. In addition to the pancha lingas, one can also see statues of Parvati, Subramanya, Ganesha and Mahisasura Mardini housed in small gopurams on the outer walls of the garbha griha.

Garuda sculpture at Panchalingeshwara Temple, Govindanahalli

As with any Hoysala temple, the pradakshina at the Panchalingeshwara temple is also special. The Dashaavatar of Vishnu on the upper railings, dancing Ganesha, dancing Saraswati, Adiseshan Vishnu, Indra on his airavat, Lord Karthik on his peacock, Lord Krishna playing his flute, Brahma, Vamana avatar, trivikrama, Ravana lifting Kailasha, Mahisasura Mardini and the large Varaha avatar are some of the key sculptures one can see during the pradakshina.

Lord Karthik and his peacock at Panchalingeshwara Temple, Govindanahalli

As you go on the pradakshinam of the temple, you will notice that each of the gopurams of the 5 shrines are different. You will also notice that the last shrine looks different from the other 4 shrines. May be, it was added to the overall structure at a later date. Compared to other Hoysala temples, this one certainly feels light when it comes to intricate carvings and sculptures, but it certainly has its special elements.

The dwara palikas guard the shrine at Panchalingeshwara Temple, Govindanahalli

If you are one that looks for offbeat temples or you are one looking for hidden day trips from Bangalore, then you will certainly enjoy the Panchalingeshwara temple at Govindanahalli. It’s rural atmosphere, its serene temple campus and its Hoysala era creative gems are bound to captivate you. I would definitely recommend this Panchakuta temple from the Hoysala era for an offbeat day trip from Bangalore. And while you are here, do make sure that you visit the other lesser known Hoysala era temples in the vicinity.

Beautifully carved Nandi at Panchalingeswara Temple

Best season to visit:

The Panchalingeshwara temple at Govindanahally is open and accessible all year round, but it looks its most beautiful self during the rains and right after it. This is when the lake opposite the temple carries water and the surrounding farms and plantations look lush and green.

A Sunday motorcycle ride to Panchalingeshwara Temple, Govindanahalli

Temple timings:

The temple is open from 8 AM through 6 PM. ASI staff are present at the temple premises. In case, the temple gate is locked, do look or ask around for the ASI staff.

The ASI staff will also act as a guide for you.

Stunningly carved Panchalingeshwara Temple

How to reach there:

One can take either of the two routes to reach the Panchalingeshwara temple at Govindanahalli. Both routes are more or less of the same distance, but the one via the Hassan highway is bound to be a bit faster.

Route 1: Bangalore –> Nice road exit towards Mysore road –> Channapatna –> Maddur –> Mandya –> Srirangapatna –> Krishnarajapete –> Kikkeri –> Govindanahally

Route 2: Bangalore –> Nice road exit towards Tumkur road –> Nelamangala –> Kunigal –> Yadiyur –> Hirisave –> Channarayapatna –> Tholasi –> Govindanahally

If flying, Bangalore would be the nearest airport and if traveling by train, the nearest railway station would either be Mysore or Hassan.

Dancing Saraswati at Panchalingeshwara Temple, Govindanahalli

Where to stay:

The closest place to stay would either be KR Pete or Channarayapatna, though accommodations can be basic.

If you prefer resorts, head to Hoysala village resort near Hassan or opt for luxury properties near Chickamagalur.

If you prefer reputed hotels, head to Mysore or Bangalore.

One of the five shrines to Lord Shiva at Panchalingeswara Temple, Govindanahalli

Where to eat:

The nearest place to eat would be Krishnarajapete. There are a few good restaurants serving meals and snack items.

If you are traveling via Mysore highway, you can try the many restaurants on Mysore – Bangalore highway.

If you are traveling via Hassan highway, you can either eat at Channarayapatna or the restaurants on the Hassan-Bangalore highway, especially the ones near Hirisave and Yadiyur.

Krishna statue at Panchalingeshwara Temple, Govindanahalli

Other offbeat Hoysala temples nearby:

1) Brahmeshvara temple at Kikkeri

2) Sri Lakshmi Narayanaswamy temple at Hosaholalu

3) Chenna Keshava temple at Aralaguppe

4) Chenna Keshava temple at Turuvekere

5) Ishvara temple at Arsikere

Sculpture of Shiva Parvati at Panchalingeshvara Temple, Govindanahalli

6) Lakshmi Narasimha temple at Nuggehalli

7) Sadashiva temple at Nuggehalli

8) Chenna Keshava temple at Anekere

9) Mallikarjuna temple at Basaralu

10) Lakshmi Narasimha temple at Haranhalli

11) Veera Narayana temple at Belavadi

12) Lakshmi Devi temple at Doddagaddavalli

13) Lakshmi Narasimha temple at Javagal

14) Chenna Keshava temple at Somnathpur

Varaha avatar depicted at Panchalingeswara Temple, Govindanahalli

Other nearby tourist attractions:

1) The temple town of Melukote

2) The panoramic Hemagiri falls

3) The magnificent Mysore palace

4) The riverine island and temple town of Srirangapatna

5) The Jain pilgrimage town of Shravanabelagola

6) Ranganathittu bird sanctuary on the Cauvery

7) The Incredible world of toys at Channapatna

8) Shettihalli church ruins

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Thursday, December 24, 2020

Na’in: Gateway to the Iranian Desert

Na'in city view from the citadel

When people think of Iran, they think of the large square and bustling bazaars of Isfahan, the ruins of Persepolis and the tea houses of Tehran. But, when I think of Iran, I think of the desert city of Na’in, the mountain village of Abyaneh and Yazd, the city of wind towers, Zoroastrianism and the one that has a sweet tooth. I think of the rich Iranian hospitality, the beautifully woven carpets, the endless conversations had over many cups of tea, the super friendly people and the ubiquitous door knockers.

Male and female door knockers of Iran - seen at Na'in

In this article, I wish to talk about Na’in, one of the cities mentioned above. Located 140 kilometres east of Isfahan, Na’in is one of those Iranian cities where it feels like time has come to a standstill. It’s citadel, it’s mud houses, its gorgeous mosques and its busy bazaars transport you to a different era.

You cannot stop admiring the door knockers on its house doors as you walk past its narrow lanes. Each door has a male and a female door knocker and they came in different shapes, sizes and designs. And as you are admiring these door knockers, you will find a hospitable local inviting you into his house or shop for a cup of tea and a lovely conversation. Na’in is famous for its gaz (a marshmellow kind of candy) and hence don’t be surprised if you are given some gaz to go with your cup of tea. Iranians love their sweets, their tea and a conversation with musafirs (travelers). As your tea keeps getting topped, they will ask you about your home country, your culture, your family and so on. Sometimes, people are so kind that they even invite you for a meal and even allow you to stay in their house. That is the heart of Iranian people for you, who treat random strangers with as much respect as they treat the almighty.

Super Hospitable Gaz shop Owner from Na'in, Iran

Once your belly is full of gaz and tea, you will learn that Na’in is one of the top carpet weaving destinations of Iran. Their handy knot carpets woven with extremely thin wools are of a much higher quality and much different than the rest of the carpets woven in other parts of Iran. In addition to carpets, Na’in is home to fully functional qanats (an underground aqueduct designed over 3000 years ago), an outstanding monument in Jame mosque, a pre-Islamic Narej fortress, a Pirnia traditional house and a maze of a bazaar that is connected by main alleys as well as tributary passages to centres of neighbourhoods.

The Narenj citadel is a great place for photography and the bazaar is a fabulous place for carpet shopping.

if you feel like some camping, dune bashing or dune boarding, head to the sand dunes nearby.

Sunset over the sand dunes of Verzaneh, Iran

Naein, in spite of all its simplicity is a magical little place. Its friendly people, their hospitality, their sweets and their hand woven carpets are the icing on the cake. Time stops in this place that is the gateway to the Iranian desert. It is one of my favorite places in Iran and I recommend it with multiple thumbs up.

Procession at a mosque in Na'in, Iran

Best season to visit:

The winter months from October through February would be the ideal time to visit Na’in. The rest of the year would get too hot to explore the outdoors.

Walking carefully on the salt flats of Maranjab, Iran

How to reach there:

The nearest airport would be Tehran international airport, about 453 kms or 5 hours away.

Road connectivity to Na’in is excellent. And one can either opt for a taxi or a bus. Hitchhiking is also common in Iran. Na’in has excellent bus connectivity with Isfahan and medium connectivity with Tehran, Yazd and Kashan.

One has to hire taxis to reach the sand dunes of Verzaneh or the salt flats and caravanserai of Maranjab.

Street Photo - Iranian Motorcycle at Na'in

Where to stay:

Simple budget accommodation run by friendly owners can be found in Na’in.

If you wish to stay close to the salt desert, I would recommend staying at the caravanserai. The facilities are basic, but the access is excellent.

If you wish to stay close to the sand dunes, I would recommend staying at Toudesk Cho village. I stayed at Taku Taku homestay, a simple village home run by a very friendly family.

If you care for creature comforts, base yourself at one of the luxury hotels in Isfahan.

A barren view of Na'in, Iran

Other nearby tourist attractions:

1) The salt desert and caravanserai of Maranjab: A scenic pit stop on the ancient silk road

2) The rolling sand dunes of Verzaneh: One of the largest sand dunes of Iran

3) Isfahan: The cultural and bustling city of central Iran

4) The desert city of Yazd, known for its Zoroastrianism roots

5) Abyaneh: The scenic mountain village famous for its fruit orchards

6) The architectural wonder city of Kashan: Famous for its mosques, houses and gardens

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Monday, December 21, 2020

Udayagiri Caves: 5th Century Cultural Beauty of Madhya Pradesh

Varaha avatar where Lord Vishnu rescues bhudevi from the clutches of demon king Hiranyakashyapa

They contain some of the oldest surviving Hindu temples and iconography in India. They are a 5th century cave wonder. Many relics and sculptures from this place can be found in museums across the country. I am talking about the twenty rock cut caves at Udayagiri in Madhya Pradesh.

Located just 60 kms from the capital city of Bhopal, Udayagiri caves is a group of temples and monasteries from the Gupta era that were carved out of a hill. These rock-cut caves contain iconography of Vaishnavism, Shaktism, Shaivism and Jainism. While Jainism is limited to only one cave, the other 19 caves are dedicated to Hinduism.

Udayagiri, which literally means ‘sunrise mountain’, was following Surya tradition since 3rd century BCE. During the prime of Buddhism at Sanchi, Buddhism made its way to Udayagiri in the 2nd century BCE. And these rock-cut caves were built under the patronage of Chandragupta II in the late decades of the 4th century. By then, Hinduism had firmly planted its roots at Udayagiri.

The iron pillar located in the courtyard of Quwwat-ul-Islam at the Qutb Minar site in Delhi and the Udayagiri lion capital that is located today in the Gwalior Fort archaeological museum are believed to be from the land of Udayagiri. There are inscriptions on these that give us insight into the rich past of Udayagiri. Even the Heliodorus stone pillar located at Vidisha has inscriptions that talk about the historical richness of this land.

The Udayagiri caves are a beautiful example of classical Gupta-era art. 9 caves are dedicated to Vaishnavism, 7 to Shaivism, 3 to Shaktism and 1 to Jainism. Caves 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 13 have the most sculptures. Cave 19 is the largest.

The highlight of Udayagiri has to be Cave 5. It has been described as the iconographic centre-piece of Udayagiri. Dedicated to Vaishnavism, it contains the colossal Varaha avatar relief panel where Lord Vishnu rescues Bhudevi from the clutches of demon king Hiranyakashyapa whol had held her captive in the deep bowels of the cosmic ocean.

Cave 6, which is dedicated to Shaktism, Shaivism and Vaishnavism has the carving of Goddess Durga as Mahisasura Mardini where she is slaying the buffalo demon Mahisasur. This is one of the earliest representations of this Durga legend in a cave temple. A seated Ganesha to the left of this cave entrance is one of the earliest known Ganesha reliefs.

Cave 13, which is dedicated to Vaishnavism, has a large Anantasayana panel of Lord Vishnu in resting position.

While caves 5, 6 and 13 are the most dramatic, the other caves are also worth visiting. In fact, I would recommend visiting Cave 5 first and then slowly make your way up to the top of the hill for a 360 degree view of the forested hills and valleys near Udayagiri.

Cavalier Varaha saves Bhudevi at Udayagiri Caves, Madhya Pradesh

Temple and culture lovers, history and archaeology students and enthusiasts and regular tourists are bound to enjoy the riches of these 20 odd rock-cut caves at Udayagiri. Some of the work depicted here is truly extraordinary and will take us on a trip down the lane of our rich culture. A beautiful site that is highly recommended to visit on your next trip to Madhya Pradesh.

How to reach there:

Bhopal (60 kms away) is the nearest airport and railway station. From Bhopal, one can hire a cab or a self-drive rental to visit Udayagiri caves.

Other nearby tourist attractions:

1) Sanchi Stupa: One of India’s key heritage monuments and an UNESCO world heritage site

2) Bhimbetka rock shelters: An UNESCO world heritage site and home to some of the oldest known rock art in the Indian subcontinent

3) Bhojpur: Home to the largest Shiva lingam in the world

4) Taj-ul-Masajid: One of the largest mosques in Asia

5) Bhopal: The beautiful city of lakes that is known for its greenery, culture and food

6) Chanderi: The historical city famous for its sarees

7) Orchha: The hidden capital of the Bundelkhand kingdom

8) Khajuraho: The 10th century erotic art temple wonder

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Friday, December 18, 2020

5 Tips to help keep you in good spirits when on a Liveaboard Tour in Labuan Bajo

Gorgeous landscape of the islands of Flores, Indonesia

The area around Indonesia’s Labuan Bajo offers opportunities for unforgettable adventures. Therefore, if you are looking for something fun to do, you should definitely consider immersing yourself in all the magical beauty that this place has to offer.

Komodo dragon at Komodo National park, Indonesia

One of the best ways to experience the natural beauty of the area is to go on a Liveaboard tour. This is because it will provide you with an intense experience that is free of any of the tedious trips that people typically make to and from the land. And without the extra traveling that you would normally do, you will also get early access to sites way before other people. Furthermore, you also have better odds of exploring deeper away from the shore, something that will definitely give you a richer experience when compared to someone who has to always worry about going back to land.

A liveabord tour moment from Labuan Bajo

However, given that some of these trips last for multiple weeks, they can sometimes prove to be mentally taxing, even for people who are total adventure addicts. The good news is that all you need to maintain a good state of mind is a few tips.

Go on group dives or activities

Labuan Bajo, Flores, Indonesia

The best part of a liveaboard is the fact that you get to go on memorable adventures with people who have similar interests as you. Going on dives or snorkelling expeditions that have been organized for group participation is a great way to take the monotony out of the diving experience. Since interacting with new people is always great for mental health, this is something that will go a long way towards making the extended trip away from shore more bearable.

Don't miss out on the sunsets

A Labuan Bajo Sunset

The sunsets in Labuan Bajo are magical. They have a calming effect. Experiencing them in remote areas away from the noise and worries of the mainland just enhances the experience. Therefore, taking the time to bask in the calming and relaxing effect of these sunsets will really help to boost your spirits. You can watch the sunsets with other people on the boat, or you can even do it on your own. Whichever the case, never miss them.

Bring a book

Dusk colours at Kalong Island, Labuan Bajo, Indonesia

Getting into a routine of eating, diving, and then sleeping can be a little overwhelming no matter how fun the activities are. Sometimes, taking your mind off settled routines can be enough to reset your mind and your mood. You can do this by reading a book. Doing so will recharge your emotional batteries and it can restore your hunger for adventure. Therefore, if you have space in your bag, carry one or two books. They may come in handy when you need a mental break.

Pack extra snacks

Labuan Bajo Skyscape

It is hard to enjoy yourself and to be in good spirits when you are drained. You tend to be easily irritated and impatient, and your curiosity wanes naturally. Given the amount of energy that one tends to burn when engaging in sea-related activities, it is always good to have a way to recharge your energy when it goes low. Chances are that the regular meals that you get may not be enough. Having a few extra bites on hand can therefore come in handy in helping you to maintain a healthy appetite for adventure.

Keep an open mind

A liveaboard tour pit stop

When you are on such a trip, you are likely to run into people who are from different backgrounds. They will also have different personalities. Some of them may get on your nerves, while you will enjoy the company of other like-minded adventurers. If you keep this in mind before the trip, and if you have a reasonable expectation on what to expect, you will improve your odds of having a great time.

A bright view of the Labuan Bajo port

With these simple tips, you will be able to adjust smoothly to the demands of an extended off-shore tour. And since you will always have beautiful scenery, fun activities, and interesting marine life to wake up to on a daily basis, there is no reason why you shouldn't be able to enjoy your tour. And once you are done with your liveaboard tour, you can continue your Indonesia holiday by exploring these top 9 offbeat holiday destinations in Indonesia for a much more diversity packed trip.

Note: The photos in this article have been borrowed from wikipedia under the creative commons license. Each photo has been linked to its host page on wikipedia.

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Thursday, December 17, 2020

3 Destinations to Check Out in 2021

Venice, Italy

Travel was essentially shut down for a good part of this year - and things will remain the same for what’s left of 2020. Many countries maintain travel restrictions, lockdowns, and have similar measures in place. But, things are starting to look better for 2021 already, with vaccinations underway in several countries. With promising developments like this filling the news, this seems like the best time to start planning next year’s trips. Here are a few destinations that you may want to consider visiting in 2021.

Venice, Italy

Venice is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, especially in the Carnival season. But it may not stay like that forever - it is under threat by the waters. Scientists predict that this unique city may totally submerge in less than 100 years if the effects of global warming are not curbed. But there are more imminent threats to the many sights to see in the city - this December, an unusually high tide has flooded the city after its emergency flood barriers were not raised due to an inaccurate prediction. The water flooded the narthex of St Mark’s Basilica and covered the famous St Mark’s Square in water.

Venice has countless sights to see with one that could be especially appealing to gamblers after so much time with little more than online casino games: the Casinó di Venezia, hosted by the oldest and perhaps the most beautiful casino buildings in the world. Ca' Vendramin Calergi, the winter home of the Venice Casino, is a beautiful example of Venetian architecture built in the early 16th century, offering its visitors not only the most unique environment to gamble in but also access to the museum honouring the memory of the famous compositor Richard Wagner.

Hortobágy, Hungary

Hortobagy, Hungary

The vast open spaces of the Great Hungarian Plain is the perfect destination for social distancing. The largest remaining native grassland in Europe is home to people with many amazing traditions unique to this area - with little agricultural activity, the land was roamed by massive herds of cattle at a time, and the traditions formed back then are practised to this day by the area’s inhabitants. They are, if you like, among the last remaining European “cowboys” still very skilled in riding, performing stunts that will leave the viewers speechless.

Nature-lovers will have the chance to encounter hundreds of bird species and one of the only population of wild horses in Europe. While they do live in a reserve that’s not open for the public, a safari-style ride at the Hortobágy Wild Animal Park takes you pretty close to them.

Gabon, Africa

Gabon, Africa

Gabon’s 13 national parks cover more than 10% of the country’s surface area, making it deserving of its name - Africa’s last Eden. Visiting this country gives travellers a chance to see the critically endangered western lowland gorillas roaming the premises of the Loango National Park but they are not the only sight to see - the park covers a variety of landscapes from beaches to forests, filled with exotic species to see and learn about.

Minkébé National Park is another destination worth considering - the 7,000 square kilometre park is the largest of Gabon’s many such locations and the greatest refuge for elephants in the Congo Basin.

Gabon might not be the first destination you think of but it has developed a great deal recently, and is expected to continue to do so in the near future, becoming a truly exceptional destination for eco-tourists.

What to keep in mind for travel in 2021

2020 was definitely not the year we hoped for when it comes to travel – and 2021 is unlikely to be back to normal either. Depending on how the global pandemic evolves, there might be lockdowns, travel restrictions, and similar measures in place that you’ll have to keep in mind before leaving for your well-deserved vacation. Make sure to regularly check with your travel operators, hotels, and similar service providers about the restrictions and public health measures in place to avoid any unpleasant surprises while on the road.

While many would think otherwise, the arrival of the vaccine doesn’t automatically mean the end of the pandemic. Some countries have just started vaccinating their populations – and those most exposed to the virus, and those most vulnerable to its effects are the ones receiving the vaccines first. It will still take months before the vaccine becomes widely available, and vaccinations widespread enough to ensure true herd immunity.

Until then, the measures we’ve gotten used to this year will likely remain in place. This includes social distancing, restaurants, bars, clubs, and hotels working at a fraction of their normal capacity, and mask mandates are likely to remain in force all over the world.

When will things be back to normal, you may ask? Well, according to specialists, these measures may last until the end of 2021 or perhaps even until 2022 or 2023 in some areas. Until then, we have to be extra vigilant, obey the rules, and hope for the best vacation experience possible in the coming year.

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Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Courtallam: The Herbal Bath Holiday Destination of Tamil Nadu

A picture perfect countryside moment from India's Deep South

A head massage with sesame oil followed by a dunk under the waterfall. You come out of the waterfall to catch your breath. You head back into the waterfall for a few more dunks while coming out periodically to catch your breath. Once you can’t take it no more, you wipe yourself dry and revel in the glorious after effects of a herbal waterfall bath. Pretty soon, you start to feel cold and your stomach begins to grumble. That is when you have Chukku Kaapi, the local concoction of herbs, spices and coffee to instantly refresh you. You then head home or to the nearest restaurant to have a delicious meal. Pretty soon you find yourself drifting into la la land and when you wake up a good many hours later, you feel like you are reborn. This is in essence a rural waterfall holiday in the deep south of Tamil Nadu.

I call it the herbal bath holiday destination of Tamil Nadu as the waters of the waterfall stream traverse through forests of medicinal plants and herbs before they tumble down on to your head.

This herbal waterfall holiday destination is the village of Courtallam, that is located in the Tenkasi village of Tamil Nadu. It has 4 waterfalls, each of which attract visitors by the drove for waterfall baths. The most remote one is called Old Courtallam falls. The largest and the most popular one is called Main falls. And the other two are known as Five falls and Tiger falls.

The experience is more or less the same at each of these waterfalls, though different people prefer different ones. Personally, I like the one at Old Courtallam. Not only is it a bit remote, but it enjoys a great location with paddy fields, palm trees, forests and mountains.

Paddy fields and palms - a Courtrallam countryside view

The Courtallam waterfall holiday is not just about the waterfall, but it is about the exotic local fruits that you can sample here (mangosteen, star fruit, nongu and padhani, grapefruit, etc.), the local drinks (chukku kaapi, padhani with nongu, nannari sharbat, etc.), the drive through the lush countryside, the pristine mountain forest atmosphere with terrestrial birds and animals and the full body massage services. Of course, the waterfall is the highlight and its effect cannot be expressed in words as one has to experience it for themselves in person.

Old Courtrallam Falls - a medicinal natural bath in the Western Ghats

If relaxation is on your mind and if you prefer rustic locations, then the herbal waterfall holiday destination of Courtallam is bound to appeal to you at multiple levels. It has been my go-to waterfall destination for close to four decades. Locals living nearby are bound to echo my sentiments. You have to indulge in it to understand its healing effects. Do add this place to your bucket-list and visit during your next holiday.

Stunning nature of India's Deep South - Pudu, Tamil Nadu

Things to remember while bathing at Courtallam:

1) There are metal barricades separating women and men bathing areas under the waterfall. Swim wear is usually not preferred here. Locals usually jump into the waterfall fully clothed. Men remove their Tshirts and shirts before getting into the waterfall.

2) There are a few changing rooms for women, but nothing for men.

3) A few toilets are available, though they might not be very clean.

4) Please do not use any soap or shampoo while bathing here as the down stream water is used by villages for drinking purposes. At best, use natural oils and natural shikakai if you have to use something.

5) Grip the metal barricades while bathing under the waterfall. I have known a lot of people lose their footing and hurt themselves.

6) Hold onto your gold jewellery if you happen to wear them while getting under the waterfall. The sheer force of water is known to loosen jewellery and it may go with the water current never to be found again.

7) Beware of the monkeys if you happen to have some food in your hands or in your bag. They are known to be greedy.

Raja - the guy who sells Nongu and Padhani near Courtrallam, Tamil Nadu

Best season to visit:

The waterfalls of Courtrallam carry water both during the SW and the NE monsoons. The best months to visit would be July, August, November and December. Water will be a bit cold during the winter months. Other months may or may not have water as it would depend on exact onset and strength of monsoons.

The waterfalls would attract the Sabarimala crowds during the winter months.

Waterfall timings:

The waterfall is open from sunrise to sunset, though on some days, the local administration puts floodlights and allows people to bathe even in the night.

Old Coutrallam Falls, Tamil Nadu

How to reach there:

Courtallam is to the west of Tenkasi towards the mountains. There are 4 waterfalls: Old falls, tiger falls, main falls and five falls. All of these are located close to each other, though the old falls is set a bit in the countryside.

The nearest airports would be Tuticorin, Thiruvanthapuram and Madurai. You can choose from any of these 3 depending on your starting point.

The nearest railway station would be Tenkasi, located about 10 kms away.

The nearest bus station would also be Tenkasi.

If you are traveling from Kerala, you can take the deviation to Courtrallam from Shencottai.

If you are traveling from Tirunelveli or Rajapalayam side, you can take the deviation to Courtrallam from Tenkasi.

If you wish for some beautiful countryside views and are traveling from Tirunelveli, then take this route Tirunelveli –> Chermahadevi –> Kallidaikurichi –> Ambasamudram –> Alwarkurichi –> Kadayam –> Thiraviya Nagar (take left after here) –> Old Courtrallam –> Courtrallam town.

Where to stay:

There are a lot of guest houses and resorts located in the vicinity of Courtallam. While some of them are located closer to the city, there are a few that are set right in the middle of pristine countryside.

If you prefer to stay in the city, you should have Tenkasi or Tirunelveli as your base.

If you prefer staying by the beach, try the properties located on Varkala’s cliff beach or the ones near Kollam.

A countryside pit stop - Courtrallam, Tamil Nadu

Where to eat:

There are shacks next to the waterfall serving you fresh catch of the day, chukku coffee, simple meals and fresh fruits. These should be enough to curb your hunger pangs after your waterfall bath.

If you want a nicer place or a restaurant with much better options, you should head to Tenkasi town. If you happen to be returning to Tirunelveli, then you can either have a wide variety of food at Ambasamudram or at Tirunelveli.

Other nearby tourist attractions:

1) Kasi Viswanathar temple: 13th century temple located at Tenkasi that is famous for its large gopurams

2) Thenmala forest and palaruvi falls: Offbeat nature and wildlife getaway

3) Ponmudi: The offbeat hill station of Kerala with a 360 degree panorama

4) Kappil beach: Sandy beauty hemmed in between the sea and the backwaters

5) Varkala beach: The stunning cliff beach of Kerala where you can wash away all your sins

6) Papanasanathar temple: 1000 year old temple by the river Thamarabharani where you can wash away all your sins

7) Nellaiappar temple: A 7th century cosmic dance wonder

8) Kalakadu Mundanthurai tiger reserve: Rich hidden wildlife getaway

9) Manimuthar falls and Manimuthar Dam: A large dam and beautiful waterfalls surrounded by pristine forests of the Western Ghats

10) Karaiyar Dam: Offbeat wildlife and nature holiday destination in India’s deep South

11) Agastyar Falls: A gorgeous waterfall on the Thamarabharani river

12) Lesser known mountain railways of Kerala: A treat for nature lovers

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Sunday, November 29, 2020

Kappil Beach: Sandy beauty hemmed in between the sea and the backwaters

Kappil Beach - the tiny stretch of sand sandwiched between the backwaters and the Arabian Sea

It is kind of similar to the iconic Maravanthe beach of Karnataka where the NH 66 highway runs parallel to the Arabian sea and the Sowparnika river. This beach located in Southern Kerala is tucked in between the Arabian Sea and the backwaters of the Edava Narayana lake. And a beautiful road runs right through the heart of it. This road is not any national highway, but it is a cosy stretch with coconut palms on its sandy banks and to one side is the green water of the lake while on the other is the blue sea. I am talking about the offbeat Kappil beach that is located right between Kollam and Varkala.

Just 7 kms to the north of the more popular Varkala beach, Kappil beach is more a hit with the locals. They prefer its remote location, quiet atmosphere, scenic backwaters and ample water sports options. It is the kind of place where you and your family can have a peaceful beach holiday with your own picnic lunch. And when you feel like some adventure, you can indulge in some water sports on the backwaters, trek up to the top of the nearby Kodi hills or let your hair down on its marine drive.

For those who are in the mood for some serious adventure can actually try the cliff walk between Varkala beach and Kappil beach. The route is not well laid out, but if you ask your way, you should be able to find it.

Kappil beach is the kind of place where you go to listen to the sound of the waves, feel the strong sea breeze brush against your hair and enjoy a relaxed time with family and friends on its sandy beaches and under the swaying coconut palms. It is a beach holiday destination at its simplest best. Do give it a visit the next time you are in this part of Southern Kerala.

How to get there:

The nearest airport would be the Thiruvananthapuram international airport, about 50 kms away.

The nearest railway station would be Varkala railway station, about 7 kms away.

The nearest bus station would be that of Varkala and Kollam.

Where to stay:

The nearest place to stay and one that caters to a wide range of budgets would be Varkala village and Varkala beach. You could stay at Varkala and visit Kappil beach by bike, autorickshaw, bus or cab.

Drone shot of Kappil beach, Kerala

Other nearby tourist attractions:

1) Varkala beach: That stunning cliff beach of Kerala where you can wash way all your sins

2) Punalur suspension bridge: Historical gem of Kerala

3) Lesser known mountain railways of Kerala: A treat for nature lovers

4) Thenmala forest and Palaruvi falls: Offbeat nature and wildlife getaway

5) Courtrallam falls: A great place to enjoy herbal baths under a waterfall

6) Ponmudi: The offbeat hill station of Kerala with a 360 degree panorama

7) Tenkasi town: Famous for its 13th century Kasi Viswanathar temple with its big gopurams

8) Kollam: A coastal town known for its beaches, light houses, backwaters and riverine islands

9) Papanasanathar temple: 1000 year old temple by the river Thamarabharani where you can wash away all your sins

Note: The 2nd photograph in this article has been borrowed from wikipedia.org under the Creative Commons license. It has been linked to its host page on wikipedia.

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Friday, November 27, 2020

Punalur Suspension Bridge: Historical Gem of Kerala

1877 Punalur Suspension Bridge - South India's first motorable suspension bridge

It is an engineering wonder of Kerala. It is the oldest motorable bridge in Kerala. I am talking about the 143 year old Punalur suspension bridge that stands tall amidst Punalur’s modern day traffic and continues to straddle the Kallada river as it did in its hey days. Only difference being, then it was a working bridge, while today it is a historical attraction and a protected monument under the Archaeological department of Kerala.

Constructed in 1877 during the reign of the erstwhile Travancore king Ayilyam Thirunal Rama Varma and under the supervision of the British engineer Albert Henry, the Punalur Suspension bridge is a 400 feet long bridge that connected the town of Punalur with the forest area of old Kattupathanapuram. The idea behind having a suspension bridge was to promote trade with outsiders while preventing the animals of the jungle from entering the village at night. The shaky nature of the bridge used to scare off the animals. Built using iron, Kambakom wood and stone masonry, the Punalur suspension bridge, looks like a micro mini version of the Brooklyn bridge of New York.

Even today, there is mystery surrounding its overall engineering. And that’s what makes it a historical gem of Kerala. If you ever happen to visit this offbeat side of Kerala, do stop by Punalur and experience this hanging bridge at close quarters. May be, you can even walk on it and teleport yourself to the late 19th century when this suspension bridge ushered in a new era of connectivity and trade.

Location: Punalur in South Kerala

Other nearby tourist attractions:

1) Lesser known mountain railways of Kerala: A treat for nature lovers

2) Thenmala forest and Palaruvi falls: Offbeat nature and wildlife getaway

3) Courtrallam falls: A great place to enjoy herbal baths under a waterfall

4) Tenkasi town: Famous for its 13th century Kasi Viswanathar temple with its big gopurams

4) Kollam: A coastal town known for its beaches, light houses, backwaters and riverine islands

5) Kappil beach: A great beach sandwiched between the backwaters and the Arabian Sea

6) Varkala beach: That stunning cliff beach of Kerala where you can wash away all your sins

7) Ponmudi: The offbeat hill station of Kerala with a 360 degree mountain panorama

8) Papanasanathar Temple: 1000 year old temple by the river Thamarabharani where you can wash all your sins away

9) Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve: The hidden wildlife gem

10) Meenmutty Falls inside Peppara Wldlife Sanctuary: A beautiful tropical jungle trail leading to a forest waterfall

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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Dabbaguli at Manchinbele: Offbeat rustic getaway an hour away from Bangalore

Dabbaguli - an offbeat lush green getaway near bangalore

Don’t confuse this Dabbaguli with the off-roading jungle paradise by the Cauvery river on the Karnataka-Tamil Nadu border that also shares the same name. This Dabbaguli is also offbeat, lush and green. But, it is located on the other side of Manchinbele dam, a gorgeous dam on the Arkavathi river. It is a small agriculture focussed village located by the banks of the Arkavati river at Manchinbele reservoir. And it is my offbeat rustic getaway for a Sunday morning bicycle or motorcycle ride.

A king's throne in Dabbaguli village

At just about an hour away from Bangalore city, Dabbaguli allows you to soak in the beauty of the fruit orchards and farm land in Bangalore rural’s countryside while enjoying the lush expanse of blue and green that make up the Manchinbele dam landscape. If you start early, Nice road will greet you with fog and once you cross Mysore road and enter the small road leading towards Dodda Alada Mara, beautiful nurseries and farmland greet you at every turn. It is here that you feel that you have left the acrid air of the city behind and are breathing pure nature.

My favorite pit stop on this route is the small family run shack/restaurant at the junction of Dodda Alada Mara and Manchinbele dam crossing. The thatte idli with spicy chutney and piping hot chitra anna is the perfect way to kick start your relaxed Sunday getaway. With a full stomach, you can head forward towards Manchinbele dam. If you feel like it, you can walk to the top of the view point and soak in the views. If you wish to head straight to Dabbaguli, cross Manchinbele and a few kilometers ahead, you will see a right turn for Dabbaguli village. After 6 kms of curvy roads, you will finally reach the village of Dabbaguli where pretty little traditional brick homes and the fresh smell of cow dung greet you.

The pristine Manchinbele reservoir view from Dabbaguli village

As you keep going forward, you will lose the tarred roads and come upon unpaved roads. If you keep going down the road, you will pretty soon see the shining waters of the Arkavathi and the lush green expanse surrounding it. The surprising thing that you will notice here are huge stage like setups next to the riverside. These are incomplete shooting locations of Kannada film movies. You can park your vehicle here and go for a walk by the riverside. Fruit orchards, flowering trees and large houses will catch your attention. If you happen to reach there at 9 AM or so, you might also find some boats and boatmen ready to take you for a ride on the Manchinbele reservoir.

The mud roads lined by farms that lead you to the Manchinbele reservoir side of Dabbaguli

To me, Dabbaguli is the place to unwind and relax. The sounds of nature, clean air and rustic environment are ideal to super charge your batteries. A walk by the reservoir side and in the village in the early morning sun is nothing short of surreal. And if you wish to catch up on some of your Sunday beauty sleep which becomes very appealing especially after a lip smacking breakfast, then the trees by the reservoir side with the gentle breeze make for that dream bed.

You can do a lot at Dabbaguli if you choose to or you could opt to do nothing. Either ways, your Sunday morning will be full of nature and pleasantness and at only a hour from Bangalore, we couldn’t have asked for a more offbeat rural getaway. Go visit Dabbaguli on your next Sunday day trip from Bangalore and let me know how it goes.

Manchinbele Reservoir panorama from Dabbaguli village

Activities to indulge in at Dabbaguli:

1) Walking in the village

2) Boating on the Arkavathi river

3) Simply chill and enjoy the rustic environment

4) Walk or cycle by the banks of the Manchinbele reservoir

5) Take selfies at the couple of incomplete film shooting locations by the waterside

The lush view of Machinbele Dam at Dabbaguli village

How to reach there:

Dabbaguli should be between 30 and 50 kms from Bangalore depending on where you are based in the city.

The route would be: Nice road Mysore road exit –> Take right at Raja Rajareshwari college of engineering–> Cross railway track –> Cross Dodda alada mara (Big Banyan Tree) –> Take left at junction towards Manchinbele –> After crossing Manchinbele dam, continue straight till you come to a right where a sign board guides you to Dabbaguli.

Once you reach Dabbaguli, you will have to negate some unpaved roads to reach the banks of the Manchinbele dam reservoir.

Skyscape at Dabbaguli, Machinbele

Where to eat:

There are a few small shacks near Manchinbele dam in case you wish to have a snack or a hot beverage.

If you don’t mind delicious food served in a simple rustic environment, try the small shop run by a husband and wife at the corner of Dodda Alada Mara and Manchinbele junction. It is here that you take a left if you are coming from the Dodda Alada Mara direction. This shop serves excellent local breakfast like thatte idli, chitra anna and bajji.

If you wish to eat at a nicer place with good toilets and ample parking space, you should try the many restaurants on Mysore road.

Countryside view at Dabbaguli

Other nearby tourist attractions:

1) Manchinbele Dam: Perfect Sunday morning getaway near Bangalore

2) Savandurga: Monolith hill, temple and rustic day trip

3) Dodda Alada Mara: Bangalore’s 400 year old Banyan wonder

4) Shri Shantmurthy Shanishwara Temple: Offbeat temple with stunning Savandurga and other rock views and an adventure hotspot

5) The various nurseries of Dodda Alada Mara area

6) Channapatna: The city of toys

7) Ramanagara: The rocks where the movie Sholay was shot

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Monday, November 23, 2020

11th Century Bhojeshwar Temple: Home to one of the largest Shiva Lingas in the world

Offering prayers at the Bhojpur Shiva Temple, Madhya Pradesh

It is one of the top heritage destinations of Madhya Pradesh. It is home to one of the largest Shiva lingams in the world. I am talking about the 11th century Bhojeshwar temple that was never completed, but that is used today for religious purposes and festivals. But, why has this temple remained incomplete? What is the story surrounding it? Let’s find out.

Located by the banks of the Betwa river in the Bhojpur village of Madhya Pradesh, the Bhojeshwar temple was constructed under the reign of Raja Bhoja, the most celebrated ruler of the Paramara dynasty. Raja Bhoj selected the region around Bhojpur to build a series of dams over 9 rivers and 99 rivulets. Prior to the dams being constructed, there was no village or town in that region. Bhojpur, the dams and the Bhojeshwar temple came about the same time all under the guidance of King Bhoj.

Some people believe that a natural calamity could have halted the construction, but according to Dr. KK Muhammed, the archaeologist who restored the Bhojeshwar temple, says that a mathematical error could have caused the collapse of the roof and subsequently, Raja Bhoj might have stopped the construction either considering it as a bad omen or because they did not know how to fix the roof.

I am very happy that the Archaeological Survey of India and its team led by Dr. KK Muhammed restored this temple or else we would have lost a beautiful temple of gargantuan proportions. Such sizes are usually seen in the temples of Greece and is rare to see in India, but the Bhojeshwar temple is one such rare specimen. Be its 65 feet high doorway, 43 feet high pillars or the 40 feet high lingam, everything about the Bhojeshwar temple is massive in size. The lingam, built using 3 superimposed limestone rocks is the star attraction of this temple. It is 7.5 feet high, 17.8 feet in circumference and is set on a square platform whose sides measure 21.5 feet. In total, the lingam platform measures over 40 feet, making it one of the largest Shiva lingams in the world.

The ramp in the north eastern corner of the temple and unfinished architectural fragments in nearby quarry sites show us the extent of the temple plans. If it had been completed, it would have been one of the largest temple complexes in India. But, that was not to be. However, we can all appreciate the vision of Raja Bhoj by visiting this temple, soak in its gargantuan proportions and offer our prayers to Lord Shiva. If you are looking for an offbeat rural getaway or offbeat culture getaway in Madhya Pradesh, the Bhojeshwar Shiva temple at Bhojpur would definitely be a top choice. I love this place and would recommend to all.

The 3 level Shiva Linga at Bhojpur Shiva Temple

Temple timings:

The Bhojeshwar Shiva temple is open from sunrise to sunset. Opening and closing times might vary on festival days.

A flower shop outside of Bhojpur Shiva Temple, Madhya Pradesh

Where to stay:

Bhopal city and its suburbs are home to a wide range of properties that cater to a diverse set of budget requirements.

If you wish to be in the heart of all action, I would recommend finding a property near Taj-ul-Masajid.

If you wish for some nature and scenic location, find properties located by the lake.

And if you wish for some remote and quiet, do look for properties located in the countryside.

My favorite property to stay in Bhopal is the Jehan Numa Palace, a place with oodles of history and that was once Bhopal’s royal boutique address. The same owners have another property called Jehan Numa retreat for those who seek some solitude and quiet time.

Bhojpur Shiva temple - home to the largest shiva lingam in the world

Where to eat:

Bhojpur has a few small restaurants where you can find limited food, snacks and beverages.

It might be prudent to head to Bhopal in case you seek a much wider food choice or if you have something particular in mind. The street food scene in Bhopal is also worth exploring and experiencing.

A pundit of Bhojpur Shiva temple

Other nearby tourist attractions:

1) Sanchi Stupa: The 2300 year old heritage monument and a UNESCO World heritage site

2) Khajuraho: The UNESCO world heritage site that includes many temples built by the Chandela dynasty. Also, famous for its erotic art

3) Bhimbetka rock shelters: It houses some of the oldest known rock art in the Indian subcontinent. Also, a UNESCO World heritage site

4) Orchha: The erstwhile capital of the Bundelkhand kingdom and an offbeat cultural destination

5) Chanderi: Famous for its sarees, but is also known for its Bundela and Malway history

6) Taj-ul-Masajid: The largest mosque in India and one of the largest mosques of Asia

7) Udayagiri Caves: 4th century heritage gem of the Gupta empire that is home to some of the oldest surviving Hindu temples and iconography in India

8) Bhopal: The city that was once ruled by Begums and that is fondly referred to as the ‘City of Lakes’

9) Mandu: Historical city that has historical treasures dating 3000 years

10) Pachmarhi: A gorgeous hill station and one of the hidden gems of Madhya Pradesh

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