A First-Of-Its-Kind Magazine On Environment Which Is For Nature, Of Nature, By Us (RNI No.: UPBIL/2016/66220)

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TreeTake is a monthly bilingual colour magazine on environment that is fully committed to serving Mother Nature with well researched, interactive and engaging articles and lots of interesting info.




Quaint but quintessentially Andhra

Manjul Pande Pervez writes about her visit to the not-so-common destinations in Andhra Pradesh

We were awaiting our train to Hyderabad at Chennai Central Railway Station. Announcements about exotic places like Kakinada, Mammalipuram, Tanjore, Vellore, and Machlipuram were being made over the PA system conjuring up images of far flung, typically regional and enticing places and making us feel adventurous. We decided that once back in Hyderabad we had to visit some of these places. So we zeroed on Kakinada since it sounded so far off and interior and Yanam had to be included as it was next door to Kakinada. My husband, a William Dalrymple (He had given a vivid description of the town in one of his books) enthusiast, was keen on Machlipatnam. Fortunately all three places were in Andhra Pradesh and easily accessible too.


So one night we took a train to Kakinada from Hyderabad-a distance of about 500 Km. Kakinada has a tropical savanna climate with hot, humid weather most of the year. Kakinada is often hit by cyclones. The city runs in a long, narrow strip parallel to the coast and is not very big and many areas of the city are below sea level. Several oil companies use Kakinada for oil and gasoline shipments. Krishna-Godavari basin is the largest source of oil and natural gas in India. Kakinada is also known as the ‘Fertilizer City’, owing to the large concentration of fertilizer plants. The city is an educational hub too, meeting the growing educational demands of the state. There are several power plants in and around Kakinada. So as a growing city, Kakinada has a lot to offer.

As a place of tourist interest there is not much to be seen, as a modern city it is not great in any way but if one is interested in seeing and knowing the quaint interior of a region then Kakinada is the place. The city has its own character and is so typically Andhra! Yet there are some interesting places to visit. After checking into our hotel and a hearty breakfast, we took an auto to the Statue of Buddha in Gandhinagar Park. It is a fairly tall statue and is all golden in hue. Then we went to The Vakalapudi Lighthouse situated about 10 Km from Kakinada town. Nothing great! The East Coast, anyway, abounds in lighthouses. From there we just walked on to the beach. Uppada beach is primarily considered as Kakinada beach and is one of longest coastlines in Indian beaches.

We took a taxi to visit the Annavaram Satyanarayana Swamy Temple located on a hill top. From there we got a panoramic view of the surrounding green fields and villages. Annavaram is a place where one’s desire or wish gets fulfilled. I heard that the popularity and importance of the temple is second to Tirupathi.  Kakinada has several other famous temples including a Shakti-Peeth. So for the devotees it’s a rich treat. Next morning we visited Coringa Wildlife Sanctuary that was about 18 km from the town and a part of the Godavari delta. We were duly informed that it was the second largest stretch of mangrove forests in India and home to the critically endangered white-backed vulture and the long billed vulture. The sanctuary possessed a wide variety of birds and at low tide, several wild and marshland animals too. We took a short walk on the 1km long wooden bridge in the middle of the Forest.


On the third day, we left for Yanam. Yanam is a place rich in culture and history. Currently it is a part of the Pondicherry Union Territory. It was part of French India till the year 1954. The French influence is still very evident in Yanam. We saw the statue of Marianne (it is one of the most prominent symbols of the French Republic and is a significant republican symbol, opposed to monarchy, and an icon of freedom and democracy against all forms of dictatorship) in a prominent Government office!

The first thing that struck us about Yanam was the clean and well laid out road at the entry point of Yanam, the walls on either side of the road were beautifully painted and a very beautiful gate welcomed us. Yanam has a hot and humid climate for most times of the year with overcast skies during the monsoons. We rushed to catch a ferry ride to the Yanam Beach (there was no beach-it was only the mighty Godavari filling up the entire stretch). Nearby was the Yanam Beach Way. The entire stretch is dotted with unusual statues. It starts with a huge Shivling flanked by two mighty elephants! Further up, is a statue of Mother India in all its glory. And still further up is a modern rock-cut church with a mini-version of Christ the Redeemer adorning its top! Right next to the statue is the huge BalayogiVaradhi, the bridge across Godavari connecting Yanam with Amalapuram and the rest of Konaseema. On the way back we spent some time at a quaint ship-like mosque on Ferry Road.

Next day we drove to Giriyampetta to see the much hyped Eiffel tower replica which was a disappointment as the work wasn’t complete and the scale was not at all impressive. From there we went to see the Delta, a few kilometers from Yanam -here one of the branches of the Gautami meets the sea. We were in for a disappointment as the sea was not very distinguishable from a very wide river! Later we had a good dinner –north Indian! Yanam has some good restaurants too! Next morning it was our bus ride to Machlipatnam!


Machlipatnam, also known as Masulipatnam and Bandar, is a city in Krishna district of AP. It has a tropical savanna climate with hot summers and moderate winters.  Machlipatnam city is frequently hit by cyclones. The ancient port town served as the settlement of European traders from 16th century and it was a major trading port for the British, Dutch and French in the 17th century. Its history goes back to the third century BC! It is one of the earliest known British settlements in the subcontinent of India. Machlipatnam is an ancient and famous educational center. The Noble College there is one of the first four colleges in India. Kuchipudi, a popular Indian Classical Dance form originated at Kuchipudi, 25 km from Machlipatnam

In early evening took an auto to the Pandurang Temple at Chilkalapudi. The idol of Sri PandurangaVithal is in a standing posture with arms resting on the waist. There were several other magnificent temples of ancient times. To name a few there is Shakti Temple, Sri SatyaSai Baba temple, Hanuman Temple, Ganganama Temple, Subramanyeswara Swami Temple. Quite a few of them are situated in Srinivas Nagar Colony. At Ghantasala, there is a recently constructed super magnificent Sai Baba statue. The statue in about 54 feet in height! As it was getting late we decided to get back for dinner. The city has several restaurants catering to all tastes and classes of people.

Next day we decided to go to the beach which turned out to be a damp squib. This beach, about 13 km from the town, is average, not too crowded nor clean. The city is famous for a sweetshop ‘Bandar Laddu’ so we bought a few kilos. Next on the list was the artificial gold jewelry for which Machlipatnam was the center. The pieces were beautiful, the artmanship indistinguishable from real gold jewelry and the prices a real steal! From there we went to catch our train. The journey back was comfortable and we landed in Hyderabad early next morning.

May 2017

Hyderabad: Vibrant & Vivacious

Shamila Rafat, who is presently in Hyderabad, shares her impression of the City of Nizams and the fascination that the place holds for others

Hyderabad! Known best for biryani and Charminar, the city has indeed much more than just that. The city of Nizams shares its name with Hyder Mahal, the wife of the founder of the city, that is, Quli Qutub Shah. Currently, Hyderabad is the capital of both the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. An arrangement that, in place for the transitional phase, shall continue till the year 2025; after which Amaravati shall be the capital of Andhra Pradesh.
Hyderabad has much to offer. In addition to many gastronomical delights, there are several other points of interest as well. The city has something for everyone.

Prominent points of interest in the city

Charminar: No matter whatever new developments the city goes through, Charminar shall always remain the first monument associated with Hyderabad. Towering over the bustling Laad Bazaar, Charminar is an imposing sight indeed. For tourists, no trip to Hyderabad can be considered complete without a visit to this monument. Renowned as the City of Pearls, Hyderabad has a great variety where it comes to pearl jewellery. The various shops in Laad Bazaar have the widest range possible in bangles and pearls. Both traditional designs like the seven-lined satlada as well as modernistic designs can easily be found here. While the shops in the shoppers’ paradise are open from 11 in the morning to around 10:30 in the night, business is usually dull in the early hours. Haggling is an absolute must while shopping in Laad Bazaar. The best time to visit is the evening when one can climb to the top of Charminar in the relatively cooler atmosphere and admire the view. Nimrah Café and Bakery near Charminar offers probably the best tea that can be had in Hyderabad. Along with some really good tea, you can partake of an assortment of biscuits, such as Osmania, jam, chand and fruit biscuit.

Salar Jung Museum: Enjoying a place of pride among the largest museums in the world and being one of the three national museums in India, Salar Jung Museum is also hailed as the largest one-person collection of antiques and artifacts. Belonging to the personal collection of Nawab Mir Yusuf Ali Khan Salar Jung III, the seventh Nizam of Hyderabad’s prime minister, the collections in his ancestral Diwan Deodi were showcased in a private museum inaugurated in 1951 by Jawaharlal Nehru. It was much later that the museum came to be shifted to its current location. The museum timings are from 10 in the morning till 5 in the evening, with Friday being a holiday.

Necklace Road & Tank Bund: Tank Bund, a famous artificial lake in Hyderabad, has a beautiful road lined with trees which is referred to as Necklace Road. The reason behind naming the boulevard Necklace Road is that the same looks just like a necklace from an aerial view. There are many other attractions near Tank Bund as well, such as – a statue of Gautam Buddha in the centre of the lake; Patton Tank from the Indo-Pak war of 1971; many public gardens like Sanjeevaiah Park, Lumbini Park and NTR Gardens; Birla Mandir; Prasad’s IMAX that has the largest 3D IMAX screen in the world; and as many as 34 bronze statues of prominent and notable personages of united Andhra Pradesh.

Ramoji Film City: Founded in 1996, Ramoji Film City holds the unique distinction of being the largest integrated film city in the world, and holds a Guinness World Record for the same. A theme-based holiday destination, it has indeed much to offer. Along with imposing film sets and other artificial attractions, there are also a number of natural attractions as well in the sprawling 2000 acres premises. At Ramoji Film City, the average footfall per year is estimated to be above a million tourists. To cater to the preferences of the multifarious tourists that visit Ramoji Film City, different kinds of packages are available. While the park timings are from 9:00 am to 8:30 pm, there are individual time slots for the various packages.

Golconda Fort: Located around 11 kilometres from the city of Hyderabad and approximately 9 kilometres from Hussain Sagar Lake, Golconda Fort is an imposing fortress complex. Built in 1143 as a mud fort on a hilltop, Golconda Fort was later fortified. The most impressive feature of the fort is the brilliant acoustics at the Fateh Darwaza. Clapping of hands at a specific point within the domed entrance causes a reverberation which can be heard from the pavilion at the top of the hill. Built initially to serve as a warning for intruders or a threat, presently the acoustics are a source of great delight for tourists. Golconda Fort can be visited from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.

Chowmahalla Palace: Chowmahalla Palace literally means “Four Palaces”. Located near Charminar, being a palace of the Hyderabad Nizams, all ceremonial functions related to the state were held there. The main attraction, often also called the heart, of Chowmahalla Palace is the Khilwat Mubarak. Durbar Hall has many pillars as well as a platform made of pure pristine marble on which the royal seat, Takht-e-Nishaan, was laid. The hall also has 19 breathtakingly beautiful chandeliers made of Belgian crystal which have been a recent addition to further enhance the beauty of the palace.

Gastronomical Delights
Hyderabad also has much to offer for the gourmands amongst us. As the city is a confluence of various cultures, the food in Hyderabad reflects the same. From well-known multinational chains to authentic Arabic cuisine on one hand, and from South Indian food to Turkish cuisine on the other; there is indeed much on the platter, so to speak.

Some of the best places to indulge in gluttony are:
Imperial Multi-Cuisine Restaurant. Locates at Saidabad, the restaurant offers the best where it comes to Hyderabadi Biryani.
Mataam Abu Faisal. Recently opened at Chandrayanagutta, the restaurant offers a wide range of Arabic dishes, at affordable prices. 
Hot N Tasty Chicken Shawarma. Do not be fooled by the unassuming interiors or the compactness of the shop, the shawarma made here is the best in Hyderabad. Taste it to believe it!

While there are innumerable restaurants offering good and assorted dishes, the above-mentioned, though comparatively lesser known, rank among the highest in the taste quotient.

Best Time to Visit
The ideal period to visit Hyderabad would be between October to March. The months of April and May can be quite hot, with temperatures often touching the 45 degrees mark. On the other hand, June to September can be quite humid owing to the monsoon season.

All said and done, indeed Hyderabad has something for everyone. Those interested in history will surely be enticed by the many monuments dotted across the city. Fashionistas will be allured by the beautiful lacquer jewellery in the lanes that constitute Laad Bazaar. Similarly, movie buffs can live out their Bollywood or Tollywood dreams at Ramoji Film City; and people with food on their minds can indulge their taste buds at various big and small eateries in the city. Hyderabad makes you fall in love with itself. Come, experience the magic and see for yourself!

March-April 2017

This place weaves an ever-lasting magic

Ritu Yadav, an undergraduate student and an avid traveler, shares her memories of a visit to the Queen of Deccan, Pune

Before we left for our trip, I had many odd preconceptions about the place I was about to visit. I thought that the city would be crowded and full of traffic. But when we actually landed there, I realised that I had a misconception about the ‘Queen of Deccan’! Yes I am talking about Pune, which is also known as the City of Peshwas.

Pune if going back to its history, the city first came under the rule of Marathas in early 1600s, then Peshwas & then the British rule since 1818. The city had many great achievements too. Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the Great king of Marathas, had established his kingdom in this region. Mainly why people get attracted to this city today is because of better education and job opportunities but I was here because my father was posted here and so I had a chance to have a glimpse at a new place.

Our first place of visit was Sri Balaji Temple, a well-known Indian temple and landmark in Pashan, located 40-45 km away from the main hub of the city. It was built by the Ahobila Mutt. As we entered the temple, I was struck by the positive energy present there. The magnificent architecture and the entire premises were really commendable.
After worshipping the deity, we had to take the "prasadam" in form of the food provided by the temple administration. I would just say that the food was simply a finger licking one.
Then after that we decided to go to another famous temple known as the Narayaneshwar Temple. On the way to the divine destination one can actually take pleasure in the scenic beauty of the plateaus that have a lush green spread. The idol of Lord Dattatreya here is different from the idols that we see elsewhere. Many devotees come to Narayanpur on the eve of Guruvar and Purnima. So, with this visit, our first day of the journey ended.

The next day, we started with another famous temple which was Dagduseth Halwai Ganpati Temple, dedicated to Hindu God Ganesh. By hearing the name of the temple one might think what the reason behind the name of the temple is. It is: Dagduseth Halwai was a sweetmeat maker, so after he gained fame as a halwai, he got this temple constructed. I was spell bound by the architecture and the idol, which was 7.5 ft tall and 4 ft wide and adorned with nearly eight kg of gold. After viewing such a mesmerizing temple, we decided to go for shopping and the best place to do this was Mahatma Gandhi Road situated in Pune Cantonment which is a commercial hub there. One would find everything here from best & branded clothes to tasty food and I enjoyed buying both. So our second day also concluded.

Now, we decided & planned to move out of the city to know more about Maharashtra and so we visited our next destination, in the vicinity of Mumbai and Pune - Lonavala and Khandala. First we reached Lonavala. Once you enter the town, it actually becomes clear why people prefer to spend their vacations here. We could feel the soothing air, peaceful atmosphere and cool climate.

We first went to see the Bhushi Dam on Indrayani River. The
dam is situated in the backdrop of scenic surroundings with lush greenery and from the cliff top one can actually get a viewpoint of the entire hill station.
Next we visited Tiger's Leap also known as Tiger's Point which is a cliff top with a small waterfall nearby which is only active during monsoons. Then we went to see another tourist spot- Lion Point- lying midway Bhushi Dam & Aamby Valley. And then we ended our day.

Next day was dedicated to places like Karla Caves, Wax Museum, and Khandala. Karla Caves, located in Karli, was dedicated to Buddhists. It is said to have been evolved during 1st century BC. This is largest rock-cut Chaityas with inscriptions and carvings on the pillars & with around 16 entrances. Now, the remaining space is occupied by a temple dedicated to Goddess Ekveera, mainly worshipped by the Koli community. Then we went to the Wax celebrity museum. The wax work usually consisted of wax sculptures of famous personalities like Anna Hazare, Rajiv Gandhi, Narendra Modi and many others. We were so surprised by the work because the sculptures actually looked like the real flesh and blood celebrities.

Next we moved to Khandala which was around 3km from Lonavala. The famous Mumbai Pune Expressway joins Khandala, Pune, and Mumbai. By this time, it was evening and so we visited the Sunset point, one can have a clear and exotic view of the sunset, with red & orange colour spreading in the sky. One would definitely feel an unadulterated breeze, with peaceful environment. Coming back from there we took Chikkis for which Lonavala is actually famous for. It was a hard candy made with peanuts and some dry fruits. How does one reach there? The Pune airport is situated almost 10km from the heart of the city, located in Lohagaon. Its railway station is the busiest of Indian Railways so can be easily reached, and from there one can reach Lonavala and Khandala.
Although I have travelled to almost the entire India, this journey was the most exotic and magnificent one. It actually takes time to digest so many impressions that this place leaves on us.

Feb 2017

Sahastradhara’s magical waters falling a prey to human curiosity

Ritu Yadav, BA final year student of Avadh Girls’ Degree College, recounts the lessons learnt and memories amassed during a three-day educational trip to Uttarakhand

Perched atop a high ridge, replete with a peaceful atmosphere and soothing air, wonderful view of the Himalayan snow ranges and of Doon valley is the Queen of Hills—Mussoorie. It is rich in varied flora & fauna and about two-km above the sea level. Mussoorie was the first place we visited during our three-day educational tour organized by our college for Department of Geography and Anthropology. We were group of 30 girls and two college teachers, Dr Barkha Bhalla and Jaya Trivedi. We had gone to study the man-environment relationship: how and to what extent man has degraded environment to fulfill his selfish needs and how nature has reacted to his actions. Despite all the degradation caused by the humans, this place still managed to take our breath away.

Going back to its history, which dates back to 1823, Capt Frederick -a military officer- laid importance on the establishment and development of this town. He was so enamoured by the beauty that he decided to build a hunting lodge on the Camel's Back Road, which has now turned into a tourist spot. Since the location was conveniently near Dehradun, more and more people started living here. Many people here believe that the name is attributed to a derivation of ‘mansoor’, which is a shrub and is indigenous here. So, after checking in our hotel, we went to view the Kempty Falls, surrounded by high mountains. The stream flowing through a valley falls over and achieves its full intensity during the monsoons. The waterfall can be distinguished by being one of the largest and prettiest waterfalls in the valley.

After viewing such an extraordinary and wonderful gift of nature, we started for our next destination: Shopping! The best place to do this is the famous 'Mall Road' located in the heart of the town. Almost every visitor to Mussoorie must have visited the beautiful Mall Road which stretches from Picture Palace in the east to the Library in the west. Benches and lamp posts are fixed at every point on the Mall Road. Here tourists enjoy buying memorable and famous things from the series of shops on both sides. Delicious and mouth watering foods and snacks at the shops also are a major attraction her.

After that we decided to have an adventurous ride of a ropeway to visit the second highest peak of Mussoorie i.e. the Gunhill. It is not too far from Mall Road but just 20 minutes away through the bridle path of the road. The distance of the ropeway was only 400 metre. When we finally reached the hill, we were struck by its panoramic view; the series of Himalayan ranges namely Bunderpunch, Shrikanta, Gangotri group, Pithwara & a bird's eye view of Mussoorie town and the Doon valley.

On the next day, we decided to visit the capital of Uttarakhand i.e. Dehradun. Here we visited some of the world renowned educational centres like the Indian Military Academy and the Forest Research Institute. Then we visited the Tapkeshwar Temple situated on the banks of River Tamsa. Actually there are mainly two reasons why this place is famous-Religious and Geographical. If talking about religious significance, the temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva which is situated inside a natural cave. The temple is surrounded by beautiful hills. If talking about geographical importance, the Shiva Linga is actually a limestone topography in which water drops from the ceiling of the cave and trickles over the Shiva Linga continuously. With this our second day of the trip concluded.

The third and last day of the trip was dedicated to Sahastradhara. Hearing this word one might wonder what it means. Actually it means ‘a thousand-fold spring’ and is one of the most popular tourist attraction located in Dehradun. The place has an ecstatic beauty of nature where water drips from limestone stalactites creating a sulphur spring that has relatively lower temperature than its surroundings. The destination is an excellent warehouse of caves, waterfalls and steppe farming done by locals there. Mainly there are two reasons why the place is widely accepted by people as an attraction: It is because of its mythological and geographical facts.

If talking about its mythological feature, here lies an old Shiva temple and a cave called Drone Cave which is named after Guru Dronacharya who was the teacher of Pandavas and Kauravas during the Mahabharata times and thus the place is revered by people across India and even abroad. If talking geographically, it is because of the sulphur water springs and having a fall of about nine metre. Owing to the presence of sulphur, the water is believed to have therapeutic value and said to heal the worse of skin diseases. Thus people from all across India and abroad visit this place to find a solution to a variety of skin ailments. But, despite being the chief attraction, the spring has now turned into a polluted water body. This is because man has started turning the site into a garbage dump and is also releasing effluents from the hotels and houses located nearby. The improper manner in which hotels and localities have mushroomed in the vicinity is mainly responsible for this situation. The smell of sulphur has also diminished a great deal, further accentuating the situation. But apart from so many disadvantages the place still offers ecstatic beauty and pleasure to the tourists. It surely rejuvenates the soul and mind and one should definitely visit this.
There are many tourist spots here such as: The Shiva Temple, providing a good mythological scenario and an essence of historical importance to the place. Joyland: swings and water slides in the Joyland water park add to the fun and make the place a popular picnic spot.-Ropeway is provided to reach the hilltop in Sahastradhara to find park and temple .The view is extraordinary from here.

As we have spoken such a lot about the place, you must be eager to know how one can reach here. Although the place can be visited throughout the year, the best time is during rainy season from May to August. Sahastradhara is located at just 14km from Dehradun, so tourists can reach easily through bus or by there own means and nearby rail is at Dehradun (14 km) and airport is Jolly Grant Airport(36 km).

Jan 2017

In search of Buddha

Alok Mohan Upadhyay spends a day in Shravasti & finds the Lord still lives there

Since ancient times, the land of Uttar Pradesh has been blessed to have given birth to or attracted many great souls, who have added new dimension to the growth of spiritualism across the world. The small town of Shravasti, about 170 KM from state capital Lucknow, is one such place. It is closely associated with the life of Gautama Buddha, who is believed to have spent rainy season here every year for 24 years! (Varsha Chaturmasa) Age-old stupas, majestic viharas and several temples near the village of 'Sahet-Mahet’ establish Buddha’s association with Shravasti.

I wanted to visit this blessed land for quite some time, but finally this December, I got the opportunity. It was a pleasant drive from Lucknow. Weather was good and Lord Anshumaan made the ride even more comfortable on this winter season when generally fog overlaps everything. As a modest driver, it took me about four hours to reach here. The route is Lucknow – Barabanki – Bahraich – Shravasti. It is said that the King Shravasta founded this town. It was the capital of the Kosala Kingdom during 6th century BCE to 6th century CE. Today a great rampart of earth and brick surrounds this city. During excavation in 'Sahet-Mahet' near Shravasti City, many ancient idols and inscriptions were found. They are now kept in museums at Mathura and Lucknow.

As we entered the town, the sign boards with “Thai Temple” welcomed us. The Thai Temple is a major attraction here. Spread over hundreds of acres, it is a must visit. Only issue I faced here is that they didn’t allowed camera and mobiles to be carried inside the premises. The nuns welcomed us with folded hands and showed us the way to temple. It is built in typical Thai style with meditating Lord Buddha in sanctum.  First is the statue of Lord Buddha just before the main temple. Some beautification work was still in progress. Greenery is spread everywhere and there is stillness that is evident of calm. An excellent place where we can go for some prayer and meditation.

Then we visited the temple. The stupa is just behind the temple, but we were not allowed there. Very close to the Thai Temple is “Jetvana”. In fact, if one comes from Main Shravasti Balrampur Road, it is the first one to come and then the Thai temple is behind it. The Buddha passed the greater part of his monastic life here. When the Buddha accepted Anathapindika's invitation to visit Shravasti, the latter, seeking a suitable place for the Buddha's residence, discovered this park belonging to Prince Jeta Kumara. He agreed to sell it on the condition that cost will be equal to entire place filled with gold. Anathapindika had gold brought down in carts and covered Jetavana with gold pieces laid side by side. The gold brought in the first journey was found insufficient to cover one small spot near the gateway. So Anathapindika sent his servants back for more, but Jeta Kumara, inspired by Anathapindika's earnestness, gave that spot to him. Anathapindika built dwelling rooms, retiring rooms, store rooms and service halls, halls with fireplaces, closets, cloisters, halls for exercise, wells, bathrooms, ponds, open and roofed sheds, etc. Jeta Kumara also erected there a gateway, with a room over it.

It is said that Anathapindika paid eighteen crores for the purchase of the site, all of which Jeta Kumara spent in the construction of the gateway gifted by him. Shravasti is the place where Buddha lived the longest amount of time, and it is the place where he gave the largest amount of discourses and instructions. JetaVana is now under ASI. There are ruins spread over this entire area very similar to that of Sarnath. Among these the most important one is the “MoolaGandhaKuti”. This is the place blessed by stay of Lord himself.

AnandBodhi tree is little further, planted by Anathapindika. There were pilgrims from Japan and Thailand. They were doing prayers by lighting lamps and meditations. Some were also involved in cleaning the monument by collecting the garbage. Can we Indians learn something from them? I walked through entire area. Even with so many people around, there was peace everywhere. One can easily dive into mediation here. The presence of Buddha is still here!

The Buddha statue and Stupa of Thai Temple is visible from here. It seems like Buddha is watching us and smiling, inviting us to dive in bliss of meditation. After spending sometime there, I went towards the Sambhavnath Temple. It is believed to be the birthplace of the Tirthankara Sambhavanath in Jainism, making Shravasti an important center for Jains as well.  There are also many other temples as well as Vipasana Centers here. Shravasti is wonderful place to visit for spiritual as well as history lovers. Roads and other amenities can be made better. There are no good toilet facilities nearby. Are officials listening? It was afternoon now and evening was approaching fast. Time to take the road back to Lucknow! In about four hours, I was back in my home sweet home!

Dec 2016

Of magic & memories of heroism!

Alok Mohan Upadhyay takes a trip to Diu: The Indian Gem in Arabian Sea

Located in Saurashtra region of Gujarat in the Arabian Sea, the small island of Diu is a wonderful place to spend a holiday in. Diu word originated from the Sanskrit word ‘dweep’ or island. It is a Union territory and is about 90 km from Jyotirlinga Temple of Somnath. One can reach here conveniently from Ahmedabad via Junagadh. It is a Portuguese colony that was freed in 1961 along with Daman and Goa.

From Somnath, it took me about one and half hours to reach here. Crossing a creek on sea, we reached the island of Diu. The first thing that struck me was the rare sight of palm and coconut trees with branches. So far I had never seen such trees with branches but like just a single long ‘pole’. These trees are said to be introduced from Africa by the Portuguese.

The location of my hotel was good. Rooms were quite costly but the view of creek from room was beautiful. In general things are a bit costly here perhaps because everything here comes from mainland. After some refreshment, I started to explore Diu.

Legend says that Diu was ruled by the demon king Jalandhar, who was killed by Lord Vishnu with his Sudarshan Chakra. If someone has enough time, walking is a good means to roam around this tiny island. I took an auto and headed towards the Diu fort. I love forts. They take me to the bygone era of the kings.

The fort of Diu is an imposing structure, situated on the coast. The fort commands a magnificent view of sea. It was constructed between 1535 and 1541 AD. A little walk took us inside the fort. Guns are still in place at the citadel. Seems time has not moved much here! The fort is skirted by the sea on the three sides. Here only some limited portion is open for tourists. There stands a big Light House and also a jail.

I climbed up towards St. George Bastion, which gives the magnificent view of the town and the sea. On a small island in sea, there was a light house that was visible from here. View of the surroundings was excellent. Clean blue waters, breeze and sun, miles and miles of beautiful surroundings. A few kilometres away is the Diu Museum. St. Thomas Church has been converted into a museum which houses antique statues, various stone inscriptions of the earlier rulers, wooden carvings and idols. Though it’s a small museum, it is not to be missed if one is interested in having a feel of the antique collection that it has.

Evening time was reserved for the beach. As the hands of my watch struck 4 pm, time was to go to the Nagoa (pronounced Naagwaa) Beach. This beach is exceptionally beautiful and quiet. What a wonderful place to relax and enjoy the beauty of nature along with friends and family. This is a horseshoe shaped beach and there are many water sports facilities available. With shallow water, it is assumed to be quite safe for swimming. People were doing para-gliding and enjoying the water scooter ride or banana boat rides. I just had a stroll along the beach, which I love to do whenever I am at the gates of mighty waters!

The beach was dotted with plenty of branched palm and coconut trees (hoka trees). They were whispering n the gentle breeze. I spend quite a good time just moving in and out of waters and clicking pictures with my camera, thus capturing the moments. Wonderful beach and wonderful experience!

Sun was setting and so decided to visit Gangeshwar Temple.  There are five shivlings here, located in the midst of the rocks on the seashore. It is believed that these are installed by the five Pandava brothers. The gentle sea waves were offering their obeisance to the Shiva Lingas. There is a mystic aura around them, where the Lord makes his presence felt. After worshipping the ‘Mighty’, I just sat there for some time overlooking the Shivalingas and the sea. It was becoming dark now so I decided to head back to hotel.

On the way, I saw the signboard for "INS Khukhri Memorial". I asked my auto driver to take me there, in case it was still open. A few steps upwards took us to the open air memorial just next to the Arabian Sea. This is a sad story for every Indian. Indian Naval ship Khukri was a frigate of the Indian Navy. It took part in 1971 war with Pakistan and fell prey to three torpedoes fired at it by an enemy submarine on December 9, 1971. It sank 40 nautical miles off the coast of Diu taking down with it a crew of l8 officers and 176 sailors. Captain Mahendra Nath Mulla, Mahavir Chakra (posthumous) of the Indian Navy, the then Commanding Officer of the ship, chose to go down with the warship. The heroic act of Captain Mulla and his valiant crew is a shining example of unyielding spirit and indomitable courage glorifying the brave traditions of the Indian armed forces. There is a replica of warship and a small memorial depicting the names of the braves. An amphitheatre is also there just adjoining the memorial. Salutations to the brave!

Though it was a pleasant weather with gentle breeze blowing and soothing moon-light touching us, I was feeling a bit sad because of the visit to the memorial. Spending sometime there, I took the road back to my hotel. Late evening, I spend a few hours just sitting at the balcony overlooking the creek. As I tried to sleep, I could hear the music carried to me by the pleasantly smelling waves of the Arabian Sea! This magic is known as Diu.

Blue, green & beautiful! - November 2016

A few years back, I had visited Venice in Italy. It is a beautiful city but there are no roads! Instead there are canals everywhere and these canals are the ‘roads’, linking homes to offices, hospitals, restaurants, malls etc. But I was not aware that such a place exists in India too. Alappuzha or Aleppy in Kerala is such a fascinating place. It is also known as Venice of the East!

Allappuzha has a complex network of canals, rivers, lagoons and lakes lying parallel to the Arabian Sea (Malabar Coast). The network includes five large lakes linked by canals and multiple small and big rivers. The backwaters were formed by the action of waves and shore currents creating low barrier islands across the mouths of the many rivers flowing down from the Western Ghat mountains.

I stayed at a small resort located as close to the Arabian Sea as was possible. One caution for strict vegetarians! The options are limited. With the Arabian Sea on the west and a vast network of lakes, lagoons and rivers around everywhere, Alappuzha is very green and beautiful place. Villages here are interconnected by waterways.

After a good breakfast, I walked towards the beach. The sea was a little violent, perhaps due to monsoon season. The mighty waves were challenging the shore. The shore was standing unfazed. The waves were threatening it, but shore was smiling that it will always be victorious!

After a stroll at beach, I decided to explore some ancient temples in the town. Mullakkal Bhagwati temple is one of the most popular at Aleppey. The premise has plenty of trees and Jasmine plants. The idol of Mother Durga is very beautiful with a smiling face. Next I visited Sri Krishna temple at Ambalapuzha.

The weather was quite hot and humid as I reached the beautifully carved gates of the abode of most playful Lord. The image of Krishna is in the form of ‘Parthasarthi’ with a whip in the right hand and a ‘Shankh’ in the left. The temple is famous for its ‘Prasad’ which is ‘Payasam’ (kheer), made of milk and rice.

The evening I spent just strolling on the beach as Lord Anshumaan painted the skies and the vast waters in golden colours. Next day the plan was to enjoy the backwaters at Aleppey.

There are two kinds of boats here. One smaller boat called Shikara can be hired on per hour basis. Each of these Shikara can carry 6-8 people. Bigger house boats range from smaller one bed room to 3 or 4 bed rooms. They are a bit costly. I was excited to be aboard the boat as it started moving between the vast network of canals, rivers and lakes.

However, the first thing that came to my mind was the pollution from diesel engines from these Shikara and house boats. The unregulated proliferation of motorized houseboats in the lakes and backwaters must have the adverse impact on this fragile ecosystem and must be very polluting. There were boat dispensaries and also schools, temples and churches on these waterways and boat were the only option to access them. There are Kerala State Water Transport Department authorized ferries as well as demarcated Ferry Stops.

I am a bit fearful of water, but I did not feel any hesitation here. Though I enquired about life jackets and verified them by taking one in my hand. The weather was quite excellent and slowly I sailed through the vast waters of Vembanad lake. Now was the time to enter into smaller canals.

These smaller canals were bustling with activities. Boats carrying items ranging from kitchen cylinders to newspapers, to kids going to schools and people waiting at ferry stops, were all part of the scene. Two hours must have passed by now and the Shikara captain decided to oblige me with a cup of hot tea. He parked the boat and brought me the hot and refreshing tea. It was a very nice experience-- sipping tea on a boat in the midst of waters, the cool breeze and the beautiful environment!

After the tea, we moved further into the web of canals with dense population on both sides. Women washing cloths and kitchen utensils, people taking bath and catching fish simultaneously! Wow! This region is known as Kuttanad, which is the rice bowl of Kerala. This is the only region in India where farming is done 1.5 to 2 meters below sea level. The dikes which were made by these village folks are in no way less than the engineering feat achieved by the Dutch on their land. Houseboats (Kettuvallam) are mostly plied on rivers and lakes but, if someone is interested in knowing the folk life here, it is better to be on the Shikara. Silently I scanned the vast waters, greenery, coconut trees, birds and small islands as our boat swam effortlessly on these waters. Whenever any bigger boat or houseboat passed us, my small boat shuddered. On one occasion, as it got a strong shake, the Captain understood my concern and assured me in his broken Malyalai English that there was nothing to worry about.

These things amaze us no end but are part of daily life of the people here. We feel excited to be here for a few days, but is everyday life here as smooth as it looks? People waiting for boats to go to school, hospital, workplace, market, who cannot just walk over but are forced to wait for the next ferry!

Snake boat races are arranged every year. They are narrow boats over 100 feet long, with a raised prow that stands 10 feet high and resembles the hood of a snake. Traditionally these were used by local rulers to transport soldiers during wars. Each such boat accommodates about a hundred sailors. The Nehru Trophy Boat Race is the most prestigious. It is held during the Onam harvest festival in August. While returning to Hotel, the plan was to visit market and do shopping for spices etc. But it started raining heavily so I went directly to the hotel for a good lunch. In the evening, I went to market for some shopping. Target items were spices. The next day morning, after a walk on the beach, I visited Revi Karuna Karan Museum. The collection here is superb. There are many sections, including collections on porcelain, ivory and crystal. It was bright sunny day and Lord Anshumaan was in full glory. The vast waters were glistering like silver. In the evening was my return train. After every such visit, I get more convinced that there are many such places left to be explored!

Each painting is alive, each stone speaks… - October

Alok Mohan Upadhyay takes a trip to Ajanta & gets mesmerized by its beauty 

 On 28 April 1819, a British officer named John Smith was on a hunting expedition in the jungles of now Aurangabad district in Maharashtra state. Little did he know that he was going to uncover one of the most beautiful settlements of Buddhist monks in ancient India!

As he aimed a tiger, it just jumped away into the bushes and disappeared. The brave officer tried to investigate its disappearance with help of local shepherds and found himself at the entrance of one cave, which is now known as cave 10 of Ajanta Cave complex.

News of this “discovery” spread like wild fire among historians and archeologists. Within a few decades, the caves became famous for their architecture, exceptional and unique paintings. The British excavated further with help from Nizam of Hyderabad and this complex came into light after centuries of human silence.

From Aurangabad, I took a taxi to reach Ajanta, about 100 km away. Five km before the cave complex, we need to take Maharashtra Tourism buses, who took us to the base of hills which houses these heritage monuments. Private vehicles are not allowed on this last stretch. Ajanta can also be reached from Jalgaon also, about 60 km.

After taking tickets, I ascended a small flight of stairs to be on the edge of the massive cave complex. Ajanta cave complex consists of 30 rock-cut Buddhist cave monuments which date from the 2nd century BC to about 650 AD. The caves include paintings and sculptures said to be the finest surviving examples of Indian art, particularly painting.

The Ajanta caves were cut into the side of a cliff at a U-shaped gorge on the small river Waghur. It is said that earlier there was only possible to reach cave through ladders from river bed. Now there is a pathway running across the cliff. I was feeling great to be there. It was my long wish to visit Ajanta and it was being fulfilled.

It was bright sunny morning and quite a rush as well. Many school children were also there. The caves are numbered 1 to 28 according to their place along the path, beginning at the entrance. Several caves are unfinished and some barely begun and others are small shrines. Two caves. "9A" and "Cave 15A" were still hidden under rubble when the numbering was done.

Like the other ancient Buddhist monasteries, Ajanta had a large emphasis on teaching, and was divided into several different caves for living, education and worship, under a central direction. Monks were probably assigned to specific caves for living.

The layout reflects this organizational structure, with most of the caves only connected through the exterior. I started from cave 1, each cave, each pillar, each painting was narrating its own story. Cave 1 was built on the eastern end of the horse-shoe shaped cliff, and is now the first cave the visitor encounters. It has the most famous painted images of the protective bodhisattvas Padmapani and Vajrapani on either side of the entrance to the Buddha shrine on the wall of the rear aisle. I took guides across different caves to understand things better.

The ceilings are also painted with sophisticated and elaborate decorative motifs. The scenes depicted are mostly devotional, and ornamental, with scenes from the Jataka stories of the Buddha's former existences as a bodhisattva. We need to remove our shoes before entering the caves. Cameras and mobiles are allowed but using flash is prohibited. Without flash, photos can be taken.

Cave 1 tells the stories about the birth of Buddha with paintings, while cave 26 tells us about his parinirvana in the form of sculptures. Next was Cave 2 which is known for the paintings that have been preserved on its walls, ceilings, and pillars. It looks similar to Cave 1 and is in a better state of preservation. There are scenes carved from the life of the Buddha. The cave has a porch with simple cells on both ends.

The stories illustrated in cave 1 emphasize kingship, those in cave 2 show many "noble and powerful" women in prominent roles. Paintings appear on almost every surface of the cave except for the floor. At various places the art work has become eroded due to decay and human interference. I moved further to explore other caves.

Caves 5 and 6 are viharas, the latter on two floors, that were late works of which only the lower floor of cave 6 was ever finished. Cave 7 has a grand facade with two porticos but, perhaps because of faults in the rock, was never taken very deep into the cliff, and consists only of the two porticos and a shrine room.

One by one I explored all caves. It was quite a hot day with Lord Anshumaan showering heat. But excitement of being there overwhelmed the bodily discomforts. Caves 9 and 10 are the two chaitya (prayer) halls. The paintings in cave 10 include some surviving from the early period nearly all Buddha’s and many with donor inscriptions from individuals.

Cave 17 along with Cave 16 was chiseled with two great stone elephants at the entrance. Cave 17 features a large and most sophisticated vihara design, along with some of the best-preserved and well known paintings of all the caves. The Vihara includes a colonnaded porch, a number of pillars each with a distinct style, larger windows and doors for more light, along with extensive integrated carvings of gods and goddesses.  Cave 26 with sleeping Buddha in the state of Mahaparinirvana.

Each painting is alive, each stone speaks, and each sculpture narrates its story. Stunning place to be! It is said that after 6th century, the Ajanta Caves appear to have been abandoned by wealthy patrons. They were then gradually abandoned and forgotten. During the intervening centuries, the jungle grew back and the caves were hidden, unvisited and undisturbed.

Spending about 6 hours there and badly tired, I returned back. I wanted to go down to river bed and then ascend again to the point from where John Smith saw the cave first time, but kids and wife insisted to start back as they were badly tired. On the way back we took some fresh guavas to be refreshed and then the MTDC bus to get back to taxi stand. A cup of refreshing tea and we took the taxi back to Aurangabad.


In the shadow of temples, Sun and waters - September

Mahabalipuram is an historic town. A wander around the town's magnificent, world heritage temples and carvings inflames the imagination, especially at sunset. Mahabalipuram also known as Mamallapuram or simply Mahabs is a pretty small place and most of the attractions can be covered by walk or a bicycle. It is about 60 KMs south of Chennai.  From Chennai buses can be taken either from CMBT (Koyembedu) or from Adyar or Thiruvanmiyur.

Ancient Tamil texts describe this place as Sea Mountain 'where the ships rode at anchor bent to the point of breaking laden as they were with wealth, big trunked elephants and gems of nine varieties in heaps'. Ancient mariners knew this place as "Seven Pagodas" referring to the Seven Shore temples of Mahabalipuram. Out of these only one shore temple survives today. Rest six are said to be taken over by Sea.

It was on a pleasant early morning as I alighted at Chennai central. From pre-paid auto stand, I took an auto to Thiruvanmiyur. From there, on SETC bus, took me to Mahabs in little over an hour. After breakfast, I understood the location of different monuments from hotel and then took the road towards the major attraction, the 'Arjuna's Penance'. This is also sometimes called as 'Bhagiratha's Penance'.

It is largest the open air bas-relief of the world and carved out of two adjacent rocks. The natural cleft, a very large perpendicular fissure, is skillfully sculptured in between the two boulders. A water tank was once located at the top of the rock to release water denoting the Ganges. It cascaded over the relief to give the impression of the Ganga descending from the matts of Shiva. The legend depicted in the bas-relief is the story of the descent of the sacred river Ganges to earth from the heavens led by Bhagiratha.

Another legend is of penance of Arjuna to get the 'Pashupat Astra' from Shiva for Mahabharat war. The scene is further accentuated with carvings of sages, artists and animals. Depiction of Arjun with beard and visible ribs is at upper side of boulder, while that of Bhagiratha is at lower portion. The temples of Mamallapuram were built largely during the reigns of Pallava kings around 7th century AD.

Next to the Bas-Relief is the 'Balancing Rock', more famous as 'Krishna's Butter Ball'. This huge boulder has kept its balance even on a sliding surface for hundreds of years! Further up, as I passed through two giant rocks, there were shrines of Bramha, Vishnu and Mahesh, the triology of God as Generator, Organizer and Destroyer. In front of this cave style temple is a water storage tank cut from solid rock of about 5 feet in depth.

Behind the bas-relief, there is Ganesha Temple. Further up is Varaha Cave. Beautiful sculptures over the walls show the craftsmanship of the time. There are stories of Varaha, Vamana, Lakshmi and Durga, carved in stones. Slowly moving and clicking pictures, I moved towards the other side of bas relief. There are Pandava Cave and Krishna's Mandapam. Many of the pillars have carvings of lion, which was symbol of Pallava dynasty. Krishna holding Gowardhan mountain, a man milking cow, etc. are famous carvings here. The lion carvings here are said to be influenced by sphinx in Egypt! In front of the Krishna mandapam is the ancient Sthala Shayana Perumal Temple. It is a Vishnu Temple along with his consort Lakshmi.

It was noon and a bit hot by now. I took an auto for 'Pancha Rathas'. On the way, I came across a similar bas-relief to that of Arjuna's penance. Pancha Rathas is an example of monolithic rock-cut architecture. Each of the five monuments in the Pancha Rathas complex resembles a chariot (ratha) and seems to be modeled on the Buddhist Viharas and Chaityas. It was quite hot and humid summer afternoon, but being there had a charm. It was just awesome to see and appreciate the cultural greatness of ancient times!

Nearby is a newly established Sea Shell Museum. I decided to have a look. This Seashell Museum is said to be the largest seashell museum in India. It houses many thousands specimens of rare and unique seashells etc. Visiting there was very good experience to view thousands of different verities of sea shells and other related things.

 Late afternoon, I travelled towards the famous Shore temple. It is called as Shore temple, because it is at the shore overlooking the Bay of Bengal. Ancient sailors called this place the place of seven pagodas. It is now inferred that this temple complex was the last in a series of temples that seemed to exist in the submerged coastline; this is supported by the appearance of an outline of its sister temples off the coast during the Tsunami of 2004 that struck this coastline. The temple complex actually consists of three temples built on the same platform. The main Shore Temple faces east so that the sun rays shine on the main deity of Shiva Linga in the shrine. The broken shivalinga is there to tell the story of brutality of time. The smaller shrine as well as the main shrine is dedicated to Shiva. The third shrine, which is in between the two Shiva shrine, is dedicated to a Vishnu. The temple walls are sculpted with lions, Nandi and other deities.

Slowly I passed through each nook and corner and paid tributes to the Lord, the rulers, the sculptures and the time! On one side of the temple, there is a monolith sculpture of lion. A miniature image of Durga is sculpted on the back of the image, which is a depiction of Durga as Mahishasurmardini. After spending sometime there and clicking as many pictures as possible, I walked towards the beach.

Many people were taking bath also and playing with waters, but I found it a bit dangerous as there was a quite steep slope. I spend a couple of hours there till Sunset. It was very blissful to be there, in the shadow of temple, Sun and waters!

As darkness approached, I walked back to my hotel. A good dinner and a good sleep refreshed me for next day.

The next morning, I rushed to the beach to witness the Sun rise and was able to capture some golden moments in camera and memories. Nearby Mahabs and on way between it and Chennai, are The Madras Crocodile Bank and 'Dakshin Chitra'.

One should visit these places as well if one has sufficient time.

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