Category Archives: India

The Mountain Railways of India

Kangra_valley_rail

Once I reached Chandigarh, my next stop was Kalka. This I had covered by bus. But from Kalka to Shimla I had to travel with the Mountain Railways of India. I had already heard about the UNESCO World Heritage toy train from Kalka to Shimla and was determined to be a part of it.

Getting tickets was not easy. I had to choose between three trains. The Shivalik Deluxe Express, the Himalayan Queen and the Rail Motor Car. As I had not booked my tickets earlier, I could get space only in the Rail Motor Car. This was possible as the train leaves pretty early, at 5.10 a.m! Not many people would be willing to wake up at that time in the chilly Kalka weather.

Express train IndiaOnce inside this coach of the Mountain Railways of India, I was pleasantly surprised with the transparent roof. So now I could enjoy the scene from the windows and even enjoy watching the early morning sky of the hills. My camera simply did not stop clicking. There were only 14 passengers in this single coach train. Also, there was just one stoppage at the Barog station. Food was provided along the way. This meant that I could enjoy the scenic beauty without any interruption!

The complete route is only 60 miles. But I counted 102 tunnels on the way, with one of them being a kilometre long! I was amazed at the endurance of the British who had built this route when they had to go to their summer capital! The route also includes 800 bridges, and I simply lost count of the steep curves. It is said that there are nearly 900 curves on the way. In addition to the beauty of the hills, the engineering marvel simply cannot be ignored!

Mountain_Train IndiaThese trains run really slow. But you understand this when you actually experience the steep gradient that it has to climb. But this was actually good for me as I could readily enjoy the spectacular scenery on the way. Even though these trains were built by the British, they have been refurbished in order to make them comfortable. As the train reached Shimla at 9.35 a.m. I could easily reach my hotel, freshen up and have my breakfast there. This way my day was not wasted at all. I had the full day to enjoy sightseeing in Shimla in addition to the awesome train journey that I had captured in my camera and was carrying along with me!

Sun Temple, Konark India

Konark_Sun_Temple_Front_view

India is a country rich in heritage and culture with so much to see and do. On my visit to Konark, I stayed at the Lotus Resort situated on the beautiful Ramchandi Beach. The resort was very comfortable and made for a relaxing stay. Konark is easily accessible by rail, car and air. I took a flight to the closest airport of Bhubaneswar and then a train to get to Konark. The trains in India are a very unique experience and I couldn’t resist tasting some delicious chai, which is Indian tea, while on the train.

Sun Temple, Konark IndiaAfter a comfortable night at my hotel I made a trip to the famous Sun Temple. The temple was very busy with tourists coming from all over to visit. As soon as I reached the Temple I was amazed by the beautiful architecture. The temple was built in the shape of a chariot and has wheels and pillars carved. The temple was built in the 13th century and is still famous for it’s intricate carvings and architecture. The shape of the chariot represents the chariot of the sun god Surya and that is how it got it’s name.

I planned my visit so that I would be in Konark for the annual dance festival which is a 5 day festival. During this annual celebration I had the opportunity to see the major Indian dance forms such as Odissi, Bharathanatiyam and Kuchipudi. The festival also includes an exhibition of crafts and handicrafts. If you are planning a visit to Konark, I highly recommend planning it so that you are here for the dance festival. It was very enjoyable to watch and something not to be missed.

I also went to the government emporiums. They have a beautiful selection of fabrics and handicrafts, which I bought as souvenirs for my family and friends. You will also find the traditional Pattachitra paintings which are paintings on palm leaf as well as some beautifully embroidered umbrellas. My favorite buy was my personalized umbrella with my name embroidered.

When looking for places to eat, I would suggest visiting the main market. I found lots of dhabas or little cafes that had a good variety of vegetarian and non vegetarian food. I definitely recommend trying the fish fry as Bengal is known to have some of the tastiest fish and after trying it, I have to agree.
Side_view_of_Konark_Sun_TempleBeing a single female traveler in India, I did wonder how it would be. I soon realized this was not a problem however, as there were plenty of tourists around. Many of them were traveling alone and I made some good friends on my visit. This was a memorable experience and I will definitely visit again soon.

The Beauty of Ellora, Ancient India preserved in stone

Ellora India

It has been my fascination to visit the most refined architectural epitomes throughout the world. Perhaps the best location for that would have been India. That was it, I decided, packed my backpack and headed for an experience that redefined my views on ancient beauty. Standing at the station terminal of Aurangabad, I was waiting for my tour guide. Ankita was her name, a lovely girl she was. A lot of acknowledgement shall go to my Tour Company for having made arrangements for lodging, a superb guide and some wonderful experience.The time that i shared with some loving people has made a deep impact on me and lures me to revisit the place whenever possible. Having been a teacher of History and Civics, i had a decent idea about the Ajanta and Ellora caves, but this experience made me realize that there is perhaps more than what meets the eye.
Ellora preserved in stoneEllora: Ancient India preserved in stone- According to my guide, these were not just ,mere temples or caves, but a visual encryption of the religious stronghold within the people of three different religions, Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism. Its was an insight into marvelous architecture which was unlike any other. The place was a series of temples from all the three religions. The place was a depiction of the tantrum of events in the lives of the mythological gods. In a better way the three different religions seemed to have been bond together by the beauty of the place. The caves are likely to have been built within a time frame of 5th century BC to 8th century BC. in total there are about 34 caves, representing the three different religions. According to the guide this place was an intersection of these three religions that lived in harmony at that period. Under the influence of religious stronghold this place had emerged. Right from inception I had an idea that such a place needs time to understand and that is why I planned my trip for about 6 to 7 odd days.
The major proportion of temples have been carved from enormous stones and brilliant depictions through art seem to illuminate the fabric of beauty. Being centered around mythological gods, the Hindu temples have description of the sacred Hindu texts, “Mahabharata” and ‘Ramayana”. The enormous caves resemble the amount of labor and detailing that has been used by the workers back then. Certainly it makes one feel the pain of labor that is invested. The Buddhist caves were austere, illusive and serene. The huge interiors left me spell bound.
My first three days revolved around these caves and on my fourth day i came across the ‘Kailasa Temple’, or the single largest Monolithic Structure in existence. It has been built in the honor of the Hindu god, “Lord Shiva”. Perhaps the best among any that I have seen. An enormous chariot that has been carved from a single stone. This was the best part of the journey. I seemingly enjoyed touching the temples and walking across large boulders of scenic beauty. The place has its own touch of serenity to it. The series of relatively small Jain temples were nice and soothing for an individual. The huge size of the rock carved sculptures exceeded my expectations wildly. The place has a warm and religious fragrance to it. Perhaps it helps to illuminate the person by erasing all stress, especially if you are in love with traveling.
Ellora Ancient India preserved in stoneThe epic detailing and compact illustration needs more than mere words to be able to describe. The place was fascinating, beyond any of my expectations and to be honest, even the whole 6 days fell really short. The place should not be seen through the eyes, it needs to be felt with them. It is indeed a story of ancient civilization, ancient India. It is called Ellora: Ancient India preserved in stone.