Monday, 29 April 2013

Keshgarh Sahib

Gurudwara Keshgarh Sahib is the birthplace of the Khalsa. The Khalsa was formed by Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th and the last Sikh Guru in 1699.

Keshgarh Sahib Gurudwara

Due to this fact the Gurudwara here is considered second most important pilgrimage place by the Sikhs after the Golden Temple at Amritsar. The Takht Sahib (Temporal seat) is located in the city of Anandpur Sahib in Rupnagar (earlier called Ropar) district of Punjab. The town is located at the foothills of Himalayas and the river Sutlej flows nearby.

Another view of Takht Sri Keshgarh Sahib

The town itself is very small and nothing much to boast of except for the Gurudwara and one memorial complex -  Virasat-E-Khalsa. At both ends of the town are the two memorial entry gates to Anandpur Sahib. The Gurudwara in itself is very neat and clean and shimmers in sunlight as it is made of white marble. The prayers are telecast live also on some TV channels.

Prayers and Songs by the Ragis

Gurudwara's normally have gumbad or domes on top. The domes probably improves acoustics of the place and makes them unique from other nearby buildings. Of course the architecture has originally come from the Muslim/Mughal architecture of the middle east.


This Gurudwara has a mixture of dome and palki or palanquin like roof (also seen in Rajasthan's old haveli's). There is Langar where food is served to all. Recently they have shifted the Langar Hall further down as I remember during my earlier visit it was much closer to the main Gurudwara itself.

Several miniature minarets

I also noticed lack of any facilities for the handicapped  This is true to all religious complexes in India. When the Gurudwara's get so much money in donations then why not invest a fraction of that amount in providing lifts and ramps to the needy? Specifically at this place the need is all the more as the Gurudwara is located at a height and is some distance from the car parking area.

View from the Gurudwara with hills as backdrop

To manage the crowds there are Sevadaar's around the complex.

A Sevadaar

Anandpur Sahib is located 330 kms from Delhi and takes about six hours via Chandigarh and Ropar though this time I had gone there from Hoshiarpur. I took the Hoshiarpur - Una (in Himachal) - Anadpur Sahib route as it is less crowded and more scenic. The distance on this route is 95 kms and takes couple of hours by car.

Memorial  Entry Gate to Anandpur Sahib

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Which is Your Favorite Country?

I am often asked which is my favorite country and I always say India. In a way it is lucky to live in a country as big and diverse as India. After all in India tourism possibilities are endless. There was a time when I could take off for a month but those were college days. I still cherish the three months I spent in Spiti during those days. People tell me that Spiti is still not really commercialized but back in those days you could go and stay with people in their homes! I should actually sit down and write about it someday.

Spiti valley & Spiti River

Other than Spiti my favorite trips have been the climbing trips! I did both basic and advanced mountaineering courses and went climbing in Ladakh, Lahaul & Spiti, among others. But then once again such trips should be written separately and in detail.

I have seen a bit of North East India as well but it was such a long time ago. The most recent trip was in relation to work but I managed a cruise down the Brahmaputra one evening.

Once again when it comes to South India Tourism almost all my trips had been work related but I always find time to do some sightseeing as well. I have spent quite some time in Kerala and explored a few smaller places as well. But that was before digital photography and MakeMyTrip era. These days even though it is easier to plan a trip it is harder to find time. But I think I would like to go back to the Spiti region and also the North East India. 

What a paradox it is that when we are students we have a lot more time to travel but hardly any money and when we start working even though we do have more money, it is time that becomes so precious! 

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Ranthambore National Park

The Ranthambore National Park is 14 kms from the Sawai Madopur town in the state of Rajasthan. It is 350 kms from Delhi and is well connected both by the railways and good expressways. Spread over 392 sq. kms of forested Aravali and the Vindhya ranges. It is among the largest national parks of India. The forest is  dry tropical deciduous type.

A beautiful water body inside Ranthambore Park with reflection of the hill

I drove from Jodhpur to Sawai Madhopur last winter to visit the Ranthambore National Park. I started early in the morning so as to cover the distance of 440 kms in daylight. I had not traveled this stretch of the road earlier.

Tourist in a Canter

I had booked hotel Vinayak of the Rajathan Tourism Development Corporation (RTDC) run by the state government. The location of the hotel is very close to the Ranthambore National Park. I had also pre-booked online the Canter for sigh-seeing. While booking online I was disappointed that none of the Gypsies were available but I think it was a blessing in disguise. The view from a Canter (a converted truck) is better than a Gypsy as you are able to view from above and one can also look farther.

Who is watching whom!

As the hotel is very close to the park I was among the last ones to be picked by the Canter early next morning. Most people had taken blankets to cover themselves from the cold but I think one jacket with gloves and cap is a better idea. The very first surprise I got was this bird who came and sat on the railing of the Canter and gave all of us ample opportunity to click it.

Cheetal or Spotted Deer

There are several types of antelopes in the park like the Nilgai, Sambhar, Chinkara and Cheetal. Though tigers are the main attraction of the park it is pure luck if you get to sight a tiger.

A Crocodile!

I was also able to see a crocodile lazing outside a water body  If you click the above photo you can make out a crocodile in the center of the photo sunbathing outside the water.

Waterfowl at Ranthambore 

The park also a a treasure trove for the bird lovers. Best time to visit the park is the winter season. Despite my lack of bird knowledge I was able to recognize some of the birds as waterfowls, kingfishers etc. One can see several varieties of migratory birds during the winter time in the park as the park is dotted with several water bodies - stationary and flowing.

Un-metalled Path inside the Ranthambore Park

The park also has Leopards, Ratel, Caracle, Jungle Cat, Fox and Jackal. I saw some pug marks which according to the guide belonged to a Tendua (Panther).


The Nilgais (or the Blue Bull) and the Sambhars are the two big antelope varieties in the park and I was lucky enough to see the Sambhars during day time which normally don't come out in the open.

A male Cheetal

The whole town is crazy about tigers and wherever one gets quizzed- did you see the tiger! Also the guides try to create excitement in the jungle that we are about to see a tiger and the foot-marks are recent ones and they will also tell you that the call of the animals is because somewhere nearby a tiger is roaming.


I also sighted two mongoose by chance as first they crossed the path and then stayed in viewing range for sometime in the nearby grass as well.

Conference of Langurs

The park has an abundance of Gray Langurs or Semnopithecus (also known as Old World Monkeys). What I have observed is that where there is a habitat of Langurs, the ordinary monkeys (New World Monkeys or in Hindi Bandar) disappear as monkeys are scared of Langurs. Comparatively speaking the Langurs are better behaved compared to the monkeys who would attack you to snatch your stuff.


Of course there is abundance of peacocks is the Sawai Madopur area as northern India is the general habitat for them.

It was a good trip to see the wildlife in its natural habitat. Though the trip inside the parks lasted only just over three hours but the memory of it will last a lifetime.

Also read -

Guda Bishnoi for bird and wildlife in Jodhpur area of Rajasthan.
Sambhar Lake for bird and wildlife in Sambhar area of Rajasthan.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Zen and the Art of Finding Cheap Airline Tickets

Did you notice the proliferation of the flight booking sites? I noticed it only recently. I was booking tickets for Germany and I used many sites to search for that perfectly priced ticket. And a lot of Zen resulted from this quest which I decided to share with you all.

Take a flight!

I noticed the proliferation of the sites via online ads that got displayed subsequently on the web pages I normally open. Suddenly all the ads were about flight booking sites and some of them I had never even come across before.

I had to check them out because the quest for the cheap flight tickets is not a simple one. Then I went ahead and tried some of them and did not come back impressed. A lot of them were showing crazy routes and long hours for places I wanted to go and the low prices existed only in the advertisements. They completely vanished once I tried the site! This is true for some of the more established sites as well.

And as for new learning after this latest quest for air tickets, there are a few. First is related to the credit card. As I was booking the ticket for a family member I realized that some airlines insist that the card user should be part of the traveling group. As this was not true in my case, I had to give up the cheapest air fare I got. 

The second learning is that the travel portals have become very savvy. Once you book a ticket they keep calling you to purchase additional services like travel insurance, hotel bookings and taxi arrangements etc. from them. In my case they have done it well, they called only a few times and with relevant products but I wonder if this would become another area where marketing calls are going to become a norm?

As for the Zen, the quest continues.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

The Next Horizon

Chris Bonington, the legendary British Mountaineer, is a master story teller when it comes to telling a real story. In The Next Horizon Bonington writes about his climbs from 1962 to 1972. 

Seek your horizons

Each story is interwoven with his mountaineering life and the non-climbing life thus making the book all the more readable. It is a phase of his life where he not only develops as a climber and as an able expedition leader but also when he left the so called secure jobs and lived off mountaineering first as a photographer then as a photographer and journalist.

The books starts with the exploits on the Paine in Chile when he had recently married Wendy and after his return from Chile takes us to the beautiful Lake District in search of a home for them where they had their first son, whom they unfortunately lost after just a few years when he drowned in a stream. Then follows a period of his alpine climbs, several of them as first ascents.

The photo-journalistic assignments take him not only to the mountains but also to the active volcano of Sangay in Ecuador and to the remote Eskimos of Canada and to the Blue Nile where after escaping narrowly after the rafts were overturned by the rapids they also had to face gunfire attacks of the bandits.

The jubilation at the successful first ascent of the South face of Annapurna under his leadership when Don Whillans and Dougal Haston became the first ones to climb is dampened by the death of Ian Clough who is swamped by an avalanche at the fag end of the expedition. The book concludes at a stage when he is preparing to go for the climb of the South-West Face on the Everest Expedition. The quest for the next horizon continues.

There are several top notch climbers who have survived the climbing years but there is none who is equally a great story writer like Chris Bonington.

Also read my earlier post - Meeting the Legend - Sir Chris Boningtonwhen I met the legend in person! 

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Ali Gosh Khan Baoli in Farrukhnagar

Ali Gosh Khan Baoli (Stepwell) in Farrukhnagar is a monument of national importance and has been restored by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). Farrukhnagar town is located in Gurgaon district in the state of Haryana.

Ali Gosh Khan Baoli in Farrukhnagar

To go there one first needs to take the Pataudi road and then further on take the Jhajjar road. It is approximately 60 kms from Delhi. The baoli's or stepwells are water storage systems that can be reached by descending a set of steps and were traditionally used for water conservation across the north and north-west India.

Octagonal Baoli at Farrukhnagar

This octagonal baoli is a mughal era monument bulit around 1730's. Though better maintained compared to other monuments of Farruknagar it seems to me that ASI is doing a poor job of it. The baoli seems to remain dry now throughout the year.

The central well of the baoli

The central well at the bottom step was also dry and unfortunately also littered with rubbish, though the remaining part of the baoli was clean.

Tunnel Entrance to the Baoli

One enters the baoli via a tunnel above which lies the Jhajjar Gate where the vehicular traffic to and from Jhajjar passes posing a grave threat to the baoli as well as the gate. The authorities must make an alternate route so that the vehicles don't go over the baoli so that it can be protected.

Circular Outside Wall of the Baoli at Farrukhnagar

This four storey structure could be missed completely from the outside as only a small circular wall is visible but after entering inside the grandeur of the place built nearly 300 years back is remarkable.

Also read the story of a modern stepwell in Jodhpur doing an excellent job at water conservation.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Mandana Paintings as House Art in Rural Rajasthan

Some time back I was driving in the rural parts of Rajasthan moving from Jodhpur to Sawai Madhopur and saw some beautifully painted mud houses on the way.

Mandana House Wall Painting

I stopped to look at these houses and do some research on it. This form of house-art called Mandana is practiced by the Meena tribal community in the Tonk and Sawai Madhopur districts of Rajasthan.

A Painted Wall & Door

The Mandana paintings are mainly done by women on mud houses on occasions like the Indian festival of Diwali (festival of lights).

A Painted Outer Side Wall of  House

There is no formal training acquired and the skill is passed on from the older to the younger generation. The designs are in perfect symmetry and are mirror images in abstract style.

Another Painted House

The mud houses are made of clay mixed with dung and lime or chalk powder is used for painting the theme or the motif. Only two colors are used, red or mud brown (as a background) and white for the drawings.

Symmetrical Mirror Image Paintings

Most common motifs are of peacocks and flowers though other birds, animals and sometimes modern machinery like tractors are also depicted.  In majority of the cases that I saw, the women who have painted these walls have also put their names as the artist who has done the painting.

Peacock is the most common motif

Since more and more pucca (concrete) houses are being constructed in place of the traditional mud houses this art form is on the verge of extinction. This sort of painting is not possible on cement walls.

Pucca Houses have less of House-Art

Probably these pictures would serve the purpose of posterity for this dying tribal art.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Umaid Bhawan Palace

The Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur, Rajasthan is among the best kept palaces in India. Part of the palace is now run by the Taj Group of Hotels.

Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur

The red sandstone palace is located on Chittar Hill which is the highest location in the city giving it an imposing view. The palace is clearly visible from the Mehrangarh Fort and vice-versa.

Arms in sandstone

It is said that as the region was going through drought and famine the then ruler commissioned this project to provide employment to people. The construction of this palace started in 1929 and completed in 1943. The red sandstone building is designed by the renowned architect Henry Lanchester. Henry Lanchester was at that time an understudy of Edwin Lutyens who designed New Delhi. An interesting feature is that the chiseled sandstone of the palace have been put together in a system of interlocking without using any mortar.

Coat of Arms of The Royal Family at the Entrance

The palace is surrounded by well maintained lawns and gardens spread over 26 acres. On the premises is also a museum containing the vintage cars owned by the royal family. The vintage car area is in glass enclosures facing west. But the problem is that if you go there in the evening then the reflection and glare makes it a bit frustrating to view the details of the cars. The main museum inside the main building houses antique weapons, clocks, watches and crockery etc.

The Palace with Lawn

A visit to the palace also provides one opportunity to see the city from higher up. The view one gets of the floodlit palace from almost any part of the city below is magnificent.

View of Umaid Bhawan Palace at Night from Jodhpur City

The handing over of part of the palace to a hotel chain has its pluses and minuses. The palace renovation, which is an expensive preposition, is taken care of and also it ensures a steady income to the current Maharaja of Jodhpur. However, only a very small portion of this beautiful 347 room palace remains open for the tourist to look and admire.

Interested to know more about places of interest in Jodhpur? Do read my earlier posts -

Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur
Guda Bishnoi
Umaid Heritage:Water Conservation with Beauty
Ratanada Palace