An Old Lake…..

In celebration of having finished Chemotherapy, I decided to throw caution to the wind and do some impromptu traveling. I just returned for one such trip and I have another one planned next week; the trip planned next week is to the home of my heart – Himalayas and about which I think I have bored one and all enough, but for today the agenda is to talk about this small town in the north west of India, near the great Thar Desert called Pushkar and share a bit about it!

Pushkar located in the Indian state of Rajasthan, is an old, old town, older than the memory of mankind. Legend has it that it was created when Lord Brahma’s ( one of the many Gods of the Hindu pantheon and one of the top 3 in the hierarchy ) lotus slipped out of his hand and fell to the ground, creating the Pushkar Lake. This lake has been mentioned in the epics like Mahabharat and the depiction of this lake has been found in coins dating back 400 BC ( which compared to the whole breadth of Indian history is like day before yesterday but still!) Needless to say this is an ancient town with many myths and legends. In the days of yore this town was famous for its annual festival called the Pushkar mela or Pushkar fair, where the highlighted event was camel trading but various other crafts and entertainments were also at display. The fair fortunately continues till today though in reduced capacity as these ancient tribes, take on more “modern professions” and leave their traditional nomadic lives behind.

We spent three very happy days exploring the city, it’s culture and it’s food. The township is really small compared to the other places in India. Nestled in the valley of the granite mountains of Aravalli range, the best way to explore this place is on foot. Dotted around the lake are several temples of greater or lesser importance. The most heartening sight is to see a temple, situated adjacent to a mosque and facing a Gurudwara ( place of worship for the Sikh religion ); people forget that everyday people just want to live their lives peacefully and quietly and this is the essence of mankind and my country specifically. We took a wrong route to the lake ( thank you Google ) but that led us to a more secluded part of the lake with a grand vista and none of the craziness of people and business, that are a feature in other banks of the lake. We spent some hours on this quiet spot and then began a leisurely and glorious walk through the lesser known temples, admiring the architecture as we made our way to the commercial part of the town. The Bazaar is filled with some gorgeous handicrafts of metal and leather, the latter being a specialty of this town. The most spectacular feature of this is place is as you keep walking, among modern building and commercial outfits, there is a wide door, and as you peek inside, a magnificent, awe inspiring temple structure greets, you, totally unexpected and completely taking your breathe away! Another memorable item of this trip was the food; we were fortunate enough to have a found an amazing hotel with a wonderful warm staff and a brilliant chef ( Must stay a Hotel Brahma Horizon if here! ) and while all our meals were remarkably delicious, one particular lunch where we had the traditional food of this region was wow! The Rajasthani Thali ( literally meaning plate) that was served to us had 7-8 dishes, displaying the best that this place had to offer! Rajasthan is an arid zone unlike the rest of the more fertile areas of the country and agriculture products are mainly millets and legumes; yet out of these sparse resources, the people of this region have been able to develop a delicious, nutritious and a varied cuisine which we got to sample as part of this thali. We ate Dal Batti ( wheat dumplings with legume curry ) soaked in Ghee ( clarified butter) with Churma (made of flour, sugar and dry fruits ) , Bajra roti ( pearl millet flatbread ) , gatta curry ( steamed dumplings made from chickpea cooked in a spiced yoghurt sauce), Mangodi curry ( deep friend moong bean dumpling curry made with ginger, asafetida and other spices) , panchmel subzi ( mixed vegetable curry ) were some of the items in this meal. One of the best I have ever eaten!

Needless to say, this was an amazing way to close out my chemo affair! I absolutely loved this city and I leave you with some pictures of my adventures.

The Augustinian Plans….

I think this recent hiatus from the world of bloggers has been my longest. Unfortunately work and more work and now an added certification for which I signed up is taking up 37 hours of the 24 hours!  My reading is down to a crawl and to say I am neglecting housework is the a mere understated understatement. Oh! the joys of adulthood! Actually I take that back…I would rather be an adult anyday, than go back to being a school kid! I hear folks talk about their childhood with so much nostalgia, but me,I am glad not to do homework, not worry about being a wallflower, not go through the angst of adolescent and generally like being responsible for myself, without a zillion number of adults telling me how to do things better. The latter still happens, but atleast now I have the power to ignore without subterfuge; as a young kid I had to do a LOT of planning to get my own way which was yet another exhausting factor about being young!!!

That was a lot of procrastination from the main subject of reading plans, but considering how bad the last month turned out to be for reading, I am kind of wary about any elaborate reading plans. Besides I have a road trip planned in the middle of August traveling across the Western Coast of India and I am sure while I will really want to read between those spells of long drives, I am also sure, my friends and cousins will chatter enough to make sure I cannot concentrate on the book and instead join their mayhem! So seriously, keeping it simple for a while.

To begin with I am putting The Well Educated Mind Reading Challenge – Reading The Histories on hold till November. I am as is wayyyyyyyy behind Cleo and Ruth and rest of the group and this certification is a lot of heavy reading on Strategy and Finances and all other non fun stuff and since my company is paying for it, I NEED TO CERTIFY! Therefore all heavy reading is for this course which thankfully will be over by November! Hence, I have decided that Thucydides’s History of the Peloponnesian War and The City of God by Saint Augustine will have to wait for now! I am not sure if I am happy or sad about this fact! Fortunately, Mr. Dickens continue to provide much needed relief for all the stress and I am happy to progress through yet another set of adventures in the company of Mr. Pickwick and friends, as part of  The Pickwick Paper Read AlongI still have left over reading from July which includes Yasmin Khan’s The Raj at War – A People’s History of India’s Second World War . which is mind blowingly brilliant and Desperate Remedies by Thomas Hardy for which I am still holding my breath. I hope to also finish Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol, again a Read along with Cleo, this month, a novel that I am enjoying immensely! I also have New York by Edward Rutherford to finish. Besides these, I am sure I will pick up more and get into an even more tighter spot on finding time to manage life. But it is what it is and as long as we are having fun, that’s what counts! I mean what’s the point of being an adult otherwise!!!!!

Something Old & Something New

And no, I am not getting married and anyway in a Hindu wedding, there would nothing old and all new! But at the very onset, I digress! The plan originally was to post about The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford, but something has been brewing in my mind for sometime and it finally being put into motion!

Many of you may be aware from my About page, that outside of Reading like no tomorrow and writing constantly, the other ruling passion of my life has been Traveling. I was travelling since I was 3 months old and have always been wanderlusting as far back as I can recollect. The prize for doing well in school was books and a new place to visit. Money for meagre paychecks were added/deleted/divided in an effort to buy all the books in the world and explore some new part of the world!Planning vacations, besides adding to the To Read list in my GoodReads has been and is a major way to de-stress. However despite all the energy and efforts spent in traveling I rarely if ever posted on my adventures, and what I did was a cursory overview more to give everyone a chance to see why I was away . Somehow I could not seem to bring in the very personal touch in my travel writings as I did on my book reviews. So I held on and then recently, an idea stuck me – I wanted to start website on Women and their Travels.

Now, I think most of you would agree with Mark Twain when he wrote that “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow mindedness.” But in the context of women traveling, it becomes especially important – it provides  a time for the woman to discover herself , her true identity and instills in her the confidence that if she can do travel to a new place without the patriarchs of her life, she can do practically anything. Women traveling on their own or with a bunch of other women is one of the most empowering experiences and it is these experiences and adventures I wanted to share. I have the extreme privileged and honor of travelling with some of these amazing women over the last couple of years and their stories of being caught all alone in the middle of nowhere in Columbia or traveling alone to the heart of Iran with a 3 year old in tow is not only an exciting adventure, but truly liberating and empowering!

Therefore, I seek an extension  your patronage and ask you to join me in these adventures, which my friends and I share at A Smooth Round Stone! You have always, always supported me in not only visiting my blog, but sharing your thoughts and ideas and showing me a whole new world, I hope you will do the same in this new adventure of mine. Furthermore, I hope you will also share with me your stories – stories of your travel or when you played host to travelers and enrich this humble motley collection of travel tales!

And, thus without any further ado, let’s us travel!

In The Company of Magnificence…

A couple of weeks ago, my flatmate and I set off for a tour to a historically rich but now ruined citadel in South of India, Hampi. Both of us are great travelers but due to various circumstances last year, we had to keep our wanderlusting in check. Therefore to say we were really excited about this trip is an understatement! The USP of the trip was we were travelling as part of a tour group of all women’s team organized by the brilliant Shibani Vig and her team at Wonderful World.

Women from all parts of the country flew in to meet at Bangaluru, the metropolis of South India, from where we all took began the road trip to Hampi. Per Wikipedia and other scholarly sources, the now UNESCO heritage site of Vijaynagar, the primary city of Hampi, was founded by two brother Hakka and Bukka when trying to flee enemy forces. They came across this mountainous – ridge range and met a sage who convinced them to establish their seat in this region! . Under the rule of Hakka and then Bukka, the empire became rich and went from strength to strength. The city flourished between 14th and 15th century and at its height it was the second richest kingdom of the medieval world after Beijing and way bigger and more prosperous than Paris or London. The Kingdom continued to flourish under the heirs of Hakka and Bukka, and especially famous was King Krishnadeva Raya whose reign saw a burst of cultural activities, including prolific writings in literature and the building of some architectural marvels. The empire declined after losing successive battles with the neighboring kingdoms of Deccan Sultanates in mid-16th century. The victorious forces plundered the city and destroyed the buildings in a long drawn systematic way. Today all that remains of this once great city are the beautiful and haunting ruins!

Shibani is one the most thoughtful and considerate tour planners I had the good fortune to travel with and this trip was no different. The trip was led by the amazing and extremely patient Liane Ghosh and since we were traveling to a city of great historical importance, Shibani, even got us a personal historian to talk us through the great buildings and monuments! We set off on the bus with some articles on history of Vijaynagar which our historian had written up and just add an element of fun, he had even procured some comics, whose plotlines told the readers of the history of the city and tales of its denizens! Even the hotel Shibani had sought out for us was a testimony to the taste and elegance of team’s planning – instead of some ultra-modern luxury resort; we stayed at these wonderful cottages of Uramma Resort, Anegundi. This resort run by a philanthropist who aims at creating better lives for the villagers around Hampi, by trying to offer better healthcare and educational opportunities. The profits from the resort goes towards education of the youth as part of the broad program of the Uramma Trust. The resort is not fancy, but has all that is basic and comfortable. There are no televisions or bars, but the rooms are sparkling clean, beds super comfortable and a wonderful and obliging staff that is willing to do anything make your stay memorable. Staying at Uramma Resort, you get a feel of what it feels like to stay in real South Indian village surrounded by the marvelous vegetation, with some wonderful views from the green grounds of resort that overlook the majestic landscape of Hampi. We reached the resort, extremely late after several wrong turns and going round the circles, thanks to the drivers who claimed they knew everything when they actually knew little. We did manage to get a view of the magnificent sunset at Tungabhadra reservoir and that view alone made up for all the delays!

Sunset

(Picture Courtesy – Liane Ghosh)

Nevertheless after dinner had been served which by the way, was absolutely lip smacking delicious, we were all extremely sleepy and we called it an early night, looking forward to the morning of fun and adventure.

(Picture Courtesy – Mentallynailbiting)

The next day we were all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and started off right after breakfast for the historical explorations. We crossed over to the other side of the town via a ferry (not my most favorite mode of transport, with high levels of hydrophobia), but have to admit that the ride was smooth and easy.

(Picture Courtesy – Mentallynailbiting)

The first site that we visited was the magnificent Vitala Temple.  The temple was built by the King Deveraya in 15th century and was enhanced by the same famous Krishnadeva Raya. The temple is dedicated to Vitala, an avatar of the Hindu God Vishnu and the architecture once again shows the elaborate and the artistic creation of Vijaynagar that combined science and art to create these mammoth creations for a single rock cuts. The temple is surrounded by 4 madapas (entrances) of which 3 are still standing. The temple complex consists of many shrines and halls made of stone with intricate carvings that depict both Hindu legends and social and economic lives of medieval India. The stone chariot standing in the middle of the temple courtyard is breath taking and carved with graphic detailing. It’s dedicated to Garuda, the carrier of Vishnu. The main hall of the temple was closed due to maintenance, however its outer walls again testify to some magnificent sculpture. There are set of pillars in complex that are carved out of some kind of resonate stones and legend states that at the height of festivities these pillars were used as musical instruments to be played in accompaniment to the hymns. Even today, the seven pillar emit seven different sounds of the musical notes of different density and volume. The temples today stand as a testimony of not only what was brilliant, but also show case the systematic destruction that was undertaken once Vijaynagar fell.

(Picture Courtesy – Mentallynailbiting)

We walked from the temple along the ghats (banks) of the Tungabhadra River. Some of the most beautiful scenes opened up to us …long narrow caves that suddenly open upon a scene of high ridge plateau on top of which sat a magnificent architectural creation.

(Picture Courtesy – Mentallynailbiting)

The second important destination of the day was the Virupaksha Temple. This is one of the oldest functioning temples of the region. It was originally built in 7th century and later enhanced and renovated in 14th century by the Vijaynagar rulers. The temple consists of the main sanctum, a hall and open pillared hall and three chambers. The eastern gate or the mandapa is 50 meters high and this nine tiered entrance consists of some of oldest and most elaborate carvings.

(Picture Courtesy – Mentallynailbiting)

As we neared the temple however, my legs decided that they had enough and I managed to twist my ankle and pull my muscle at the same time. (Don’t ask me how I managed this medical marvel!) After much ado, my flatmate and I came back to the resort and after spending hours soaking in hot water and several painkillers and muscle relaxant dosage, I was finally able to walk again. (Thank You Liane/Sabeena for that amazing muscle spray and medication!) The fact that I was travelling with a wonderful troupe was brought home even more by the fact that the moment they reached the resort, the made a beeline for my room to figure out how I was doing and what could they do to make me more comfortable. Further ministrations and care, and I was finally ready to venture forth and join everyone else for evening dinner at Hema. Hema is a dimly lit shack where you get the most delicious Shakshuka and sizzlers. After gorging on some of this great food, we were back in the hotel for some rest, looking forward to-day 2.

Since I had limited abilities, I did not visit all that was planned, choosing only selective venues to explore and therefore to do justice to all the greatness of Vijaynagar, I make over its retelling to my bestfriend/flatmate/sister-in-crime, mentallynailbiting in the next post!