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Calcutta, 'Jewel of India'

{short description of image}Standing on a huge cake of land along the Ganges is the great city of Calcutta, the metropolis of India's culture, politics and industry. A city of great variety, it satisfies so many tastes. Her great academies of culture, priceless galleries of art and architecture, archives of rich literature, theatre and music, lively festivals and colorful customs and last but not least her giant industry and commerce have earned for her the proud term the 'Jewel of India' to whom the entire country turns in homage.

Calcutta is a city of immensities. Wharves fitted with modern contrivances of facilitate the loading and unloading of vessels with activity. Its friendly and hospitable people, varied charms and starling contrasts fabulous luxury and abominable misery, high intellect and ignorance abounding, magnificent palaces and sticking slums - all these are objects of mystery and permanent interest to all.

Place of Interest in and around Calcutta
Calcutta is like London in that it is a great port and that it can provide such a wealth of interest, so many beautiful, impressive and curious sights, so many diversions, occupations, entertainments and pursuits, that to be in Calcutta might be considered not only a privilege, but almost a profession.

Victoria Memorial
Standing majestically on the south end of the Maidan is the Victoria Memorial, the marble monument erected to the memory of the great sovereign whose name it bears. Built by Lord Curzon in 1921 at a cost of Rs. 76 lakh as a replica of the famous Taj Mahal at Agra, the Memorial is regarded as one of the great buildings of the modern world and is the repository of a priceless collection of pictures, statues and historical documents and other object of art and interest illustrative of Indian history in general and the Victorian art in particular, The spacious grounds around the building are well laid out with exquisite flower beds, wide lawns and gleaming stretches of water, which all make it one of Calcutta's preeminent show-place.

Indian Museum
The magnificent building with a frontage of over 300 ft. along the Chowringhee Road is the Indian Museum, one of the largest museum of the world. A veritable treasure-house of knowledge, the Museum contains rare collections, illustrative of Indian art and archaeology, natural history, coins and manuscripts, jewels, busts, engraving and other objects of absorbing interest.

Belur Math
On the west bank of the river Hooghly, across the Bridge, stands the magnificent Hindu monastery- the Belur Math- which was built by the donation of an American lady in honor of Sri Ramkrishna and his notable disciple Swami Vivekananda, who earned immortal fame at the Parliament of Religions held at Chicago. The temple at once represents a church a mosque and a temple when viewed from different angles. This is the headquarters of the Ramkrishna Mission, India's greatest philanthropic organization.

Abode of Shiva

{short description of image}The island of Omkareshwar is shaped like an 'Om', the holiest of holy symbols, the mystical repository and talisman of faith, wisdom and divine power. It is here that the handiwork of nature and man compliment each other to create a serene setting and bear testimony of descriptions made in the Puranas (ancient scriptures) that this was a habitation of Aryans from where cultural vibrations issued forth to the rest of the country.

The five storeyed Omkareshwar temple containing the self-emerging jyotirlinga is the main center of attraction. Its origin is shrouded in mystery. The inner sanctum sanctorum, which appears an independent temple itself is very old. The extension of the temple with its imposing sabha mandap (hall) containing huge stone columns with carved figures appear to belong to the Brahmanical times or Gupta period (4th or 5th century AD). As the sanctum is close of the precipitous bank of the Narmada river, the extension made is sideways. That explains why the main door is not in front of the deity.

The curious arrangement here is that the lingam cell is not placed as usual in line with the front door of the temple but to one side. It cannot be seen except from the remote inner end of the hall. The cell around the lingam is filled with water, which is said to maintain a constant level even during the busiest periods of Mahashivrati and kartika when thousands of liters of water are poured over the shivalinga as part of the abhishek ceremony. Facing the Shivalinga is a statue of the Goddess Narmada.

Mandhata hill contains a number of other interesting temples too. These are generally in the medieval Brahmanic style and are built without the use of arches, the dome being made by tiers of bricks shelving inwards. Their architecture dates back to the 10th-13th century AD in the age of the Parmars. There may have been some 50 temples, which were part of a sprawling township and fortress on top of Mandhata hill commanding an excellent view of the valley with its own lakes and ponds.

On the southern bank of the Narmada river is the temple of Amreshwar containing inscriptions on the walls of the portico dating back to 1063 AD. Ahilya Bai, the queen of the Holkar dynasty initiated the custom of lingarchana puja or the creation of earthen Shivalingas on wooden boards containing some one thousand holes. In each of these a mound of earth to represent a lingam is placed and each is then bedlocked with a single grain of rice. Thirty thousand such lingams when ready are offered to the Narmada. The Trust created in the Queen's name still maintains this custom today.

On the island the most magnificent and fascinating temple is that of Siddhnath standing on a plateau towards the eastern edge of the hill. It is supported by a high plinth, whose sides are festooned with stately elephants in various positions. These are four or five feet high and made of yellow sandstone. The pillars supporting the entrances are elaborately carved with friezes of satyr-like figures. Even in its present state of decay the temple is imposing and attractive.

Little Lhasa: A home away from home

An overnight bus journey from Delhi takes one to Dharamshala, a popular hill station in Himachal Pradesh. Since 1960, when it became the seal of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Dharamshala attained international repute as the 'Little Lhasa' in India with more than 3000 Tibetans settled there.

{short description of image}Dharamshala is a veritable paradise of peace. Naddi, situated five kilometres from the McLeodGanj market in Upper Dharamshala, is a small village that enjoys the vantage point of offering a panoramic view of the Dhauladhar Range to those fortunate who have discovered the place. The Udechee-huts provide a haven for nature lovers and is a home away form home. It is run by a couple who appreciate the value of nature and have thus maintained the resort in an environment friendly manner-as natural as possible-yet providing all the comforts of a home. There are eight circular huts on split levels, independent of each other with all modern amenities such as hot/cold water, heater, intercom service, etc. The rooms are airy, bright and tastefully furnished. There is a dining hall and a sitting room in the main lodge where all the guests can join the hosts for a meal and mingle with each other. A choice of Indian, Chinese and Continental food is offered. A personal touch is added to the holiday as you interact with your hosts and learn about the region, people and culture.

From the udechee Huts one gets a spectacular view of the sunrise and sunset since the view is unhindered by buildings or trees- a spectacular play of colors on the snow-clad peaks. The sky sheds its orange hue to don a rosy pink one in a matter of minutes before finally settling down to a pale mist veiling the mountains. You can see shepherds drive their flocks home in the evenings or sometimes just feel their presence when you hear the soft notes of a flute.

There are several trekking routes that start from Naddi which are quite popular with people on an adventure holiday. Dharamshala's altitude varies between 1250 meters and 2250 meters. The snow line here is comparatively more easily accessible than at any other hill station. The trek to Triund, is a very frequented one, only 18 kilometers from Dharamshala. It is possible to make a return trip on the same day. Triund lies at the foot of the perpetually snow clad Dhauladhar Range, at a height of 2828 meters. The Forest Lodge at Triund rests atop a hill. One can see the clouds settle below in the evenings. The landscape is pastoral-lush green grass spread endlessly on the slope with boulders scattered around. Those who wish to stay to pitch their tents, lights bonfires and await the star-filled sky. Gaddis or shepherds, hurry back to their homes. There is a tiny shack where one can get biscuits and tea made on a charcoal fire. The sun making an exit behind the mountains is a memory worth capturing.

The snow line starts at Ilaqa, five kilometers from Triund and commands a breathtaking view of the snow covered mountains as well as the emerald green valley below. A less strenuous option is a stroll to the river, an hour's walk from the Udechee Huts. The journey is a picturesque one with lush terraced farms, pines, picture-postcard scenery. The river, actually a wide stream, makes a wonderful picnic spot. There are huge boulders everywhere, the water is sparkling and the warm sun entices you to take a nap. A packed lunch from the Udechee Huts makes the trip complete.

If not rushed for time, make a trip down to Dharamshala. The hill station is divided into an upper and lower part with a difference of 457 meters between them. Starting down from Naddi, the first stop is the Dal Lake after a 11 kilometer walk. Not as large as its famed namesake in Kashmir, it has a charm of its own with a dense forest of pines providing the backdrop to the lake. There are beautiful and colorful fish visible in the crystal clear waters. Not far from the lake is the shrine of Bhasunath near a small waterfall, which is famous for its ancient temple. The temple is considered sacred by Hindus.

Another 13 kilometers from Dal Lake brings you down to McLeodGanj in Uppar Dharamshala. Reminiscent of the British Raj, it is also an important Buddhist mecca dominated by Tibetan residents. The gompa or the Buddhist temple lies opposite the Dalai Lama's abode half an hour's walk from the market. The place is washed with tranquility. There are monks in their maroon and saffron attires of all age groups. The Institute for Buddhist Dialectic Studies is situated here.

Inside the gompa there are beautiful paintings, even the walls and the ceiling are painted with bright colors. Tankhas or silk wall hangings are hung along the walls. There is an enormous statue of Lord Buddha in the center, numerous oil lamps and bowls of water as customary are placed before the statue. Outside, all around the gompa, are cylindrical prayer wheels painted bright red. It is said that if one turns the wheels, the sins of one's ancestors are washed away. A number of residential buildings, restaurants, Tibetan handicrafts, curio shops together with the people create a feeling of a very different and mystical land.

Mid-way to Lower Dharamshala, hidden in the pine trees is the graceful Gothic Church of St. John known for its beautiful and priceless stained galls windows. There is a memorial to Sir Elgin, the 18th Viceroy of India who made a dying request that he be buried here in this church dedicated to the patron saint of Scotland since the area reminded him of his home in Scotland-rugged, wild and expansive.

Passing the busy market of Lower Dharamshala, one can go on to visit the War Memorial built near the entry point to Dharamshala, in memory of the hundreds of jawans (soldiers) and officers belonging to the Kangra Valley who died fighting in the Indo-China and Indo-Pakistan wars. Situated in a beautiful garden on a gentle slope, the place has been well maintained with flowerbeds, stone walks, wooden benches, decorative shelters, etc. It is an ideal place for spending peaceful, relaxed afternoons.

A famous temple dedicated to the Goddess Chamundi Devi rests in the village of Dadh, which is 15 kilometers from Dharamshala. On reaching the temple, an awe-inspiring view of the Dhauladhar Range awaits you. You can also view the Khud, Pathiar and Lahla forests from here. There are hot springs at Tatwani, 25 kilometers from Dharamshala.

If one comes for a prolonged stay, there are a host of places around Dharamshala that can be reached by road. This area is dotted with breathtakingly beautiful picnic spots. Souvenirs can be bought aplenty in the mall where flea markets are held regularly on Sundays. The Tibetan shops display interesting wares-trinkets, woolens, traditional costumes, curios etc. Be adventurous and try the Himachal apple wine.

A City of Myths and Legends

{short description of image}The outline and bold silhouettes of Orchha depict to this day the grandeur and power of the Bundela rulers; every detail, curve and contour of its cluster of monuments flouting the luxury and the legacy of the erstwhile rajas.

Upon a visit to Orchha, one can see busloads of pilgrims bathing on the Kanchana Ghat along the roaring Betwa river. Makeshift kitchens spread an aroma of freshly baked rotis' (bread) on wood fires. These pious people come from all over Madhya Pradesh to pay homage to Raja Rama, the mythological king of Ayodhya. (According to Hindus, Lord Rama was the incarnation of the God Vishnu, who descended on earth to fight evil)

Of all the legends that make this erstwhile Bundela kingdom in Madhya Pradesh a storehouse of fables, both of mortal love and immortal faith, the Raja Rama story is the most unique. It is claimed that the image of Rama installed in the temple is the only one depicting the lord in the padmasana that is, the sitting state. He is carved in black stone, beside him sits Sita. Rama is in rajshi bhesh'- attired like a king with one hand on a shield. The toes of his right foot are visible beneath the shield.

The sculpture is credited to Sage Vashist. He is said to have carved it when Rama took fourteen years 'banvas' or exile as described in Ramayana. It is said that the pious Raja of Bundela, King Madhukar I, had a dream-visitation of Rama. He was called to Ayodhya in 1575. There he found this statue and brought it to Orchha. While a suitable temple was being constructed in which to install the deity, Madhukar felt the safest place for it would be in the Rani Mahal, where it would be safe from foreign raiders.

The Chhaturbhuj temple, on a raised rocky platform, close to the palace, was built for Raja Rama. But when it was ready, the deity refused to budge from the palace. So there it resides, surrounded by devoted brother Lakshamana, and the faithful retinue that helped Raja Rama (Lord Rama) defeat Ravana.

orchhaLegend apart, today's reality is also somewhat fabulous. Madhukar Shah II, the present eighth descendant of Madhukar Shah I, has given the Raja Rama Mandir to the government on certain conditions regarding its upkeep. (Incidentally one Rama temple in Ayodhya is still maintained by Mandhukar II.)

When the temple is opened to the public for 'darshan', bodies are literally packed like sardines most of the time as there is not too much space directly in front of the shrine. As the bells and gongs strike the hour, the pandits or priests starts blowing the conchs. This is the signal for the policeman, standing barefoot in front of the shut door with a gun on his shoulder, to present arms. As the reigning head priest emerges from behind the shrine and deferentially opens the ornate wooden doors, the shouts hailing Raja Rama reach a crescendo. This is followed by devotional songs and distribution of parshad.

The Chaturbhuj Temple is a desolate structure. There is a desolate structure. There is a tinsel copy of the original Raja Rama placed in the space created for it. But the architecture is marvelous. Whosoever designed it took ideas from several places of worship. The white monument has cathedral like arches and pillars, the domes are modeled on ancient mosques, the alcoves recall 'mazaars', churches and temples. Madhukar Shah envisaged a secular abode for Raja Rama.

The other fascinating story linked with this tiny tourist spot-it is usually a lunch stopover for tourists on their way from Jhansi to Khajuraho-is the story of the beautiful courtesan Rai Praveen. A poetess and musician, Rai Praveen was the beloved of, and loved Raja Indra Mani. Emperor Akbar (b. 1542-d. 1605 AD) was fascinated by her and ordered the Bundela Raja to send her to Delhi. The clever lady so captivated the emperor with her charming display of total loyalty to her lover that Akbar was forced to return her to Orchha.

The Rai Praveen Mahal, a lovely aerial view of which can be had from the Jehangir Mahal, is a simple airy stone structure surrounded by trees of the same height. Yet there is provision for light in almost every niche. Surrounding it are the gardens of the Anand Mahal where echoes of mehfils still resound.

The Hotel Sheesh Mahal, run by Madhya Pradesh Tourism, has some wondrous living spaces, large bathrooms, anterooms and bedrooms. This structure forms the center of a quadrangle. The Jehangir Palace is on one side, a view of Orchha on another, and a flagstone path links the space to the Laxminarayan Temple.

The Laxminarayan Temple is a cross between a fort and a religious sanctum, and has the most exquisite wall paintings seen in this part of the country. Those on lower levels have been somewhat defaced, but the ones on the ceiling and upper walls are brilliant descriptions of narrative episodes from mythology, particularly the Ramayana. The best murals are in three halls, which the caretakers in their rare wisdom keep locked.

On the banks of the Kanchana river are fourteen chhatris or cenotaphs. These memorials to the rulers of Orchha are a sight to behold from a distance. Unforntunately they are not in very good conditions. The cenotaph to the great Madhukar-I, with a beautiful marble bas-relief within, and the other chhatris require immediate attention.

A contemporary attraction though not of great beauty, but of immense historical importance is the Shaheed Smarak. It marks the house where the revolutionary freedom fighter, Chandrashekhar Azad spent his days of exile or 'agyatvaas' in 1926 and 27.

Sheesh Mahal is exotic, but for those who want to spend peaceful days, the M.P. Tourism Betwa Cottages along the riverbank are absolutely wonderful. Orchha is 19 km by road from Jhansi rail junction, and 119 km from Gwalior airport. Khajuraho is 170 km away.

The holiest Place of the Sikh Religion

{short description of image}The city founded in 1577 by Ram Das, the fourth Guru of the Sikhs, Amritsar is both the center of the Sikh religion and the major city of the Punjab state, where the majority of Sikhs live. The name Amritsar translates as 'pool of nectar', the name of the sacred pool by which the Sikh's golden temple is built.

The original site for the city was granted by the Moghul emperor Akbar, but in 1761 Ahmad Shah Durani sacked the town and destroyed the temple. The temple was rebuilt in 1764 and in 1802 it was roofed over with copper gilded plates by Ranjit Singh and became known as the golden temple. During the turmoil of the partition of India in 1948, Amritsar was a flashpoint for the terrible events that shook the Punjab. The region's recovery has been remarkable and today Amritsar even looks better off than other parts of India. You see few beggars in the streets.

The old city is south of the main railway station and is surrounded by a circular road, which used to contain the massive city walls. There are 18 gates still in existence but only the gate to the north, facing the Ram Bagh gardens, is original. The Golden Temple and the narrow alleys of the bazaar area are in the interior of the old city. The more modern part of Amritsar is northeast of the railway station where you will also find the beautiful gardens known as Ram Bagh.

The Golden Temple
The holiest shrine of the Sikh religion is in the center of the old part of town. The temple itself is surrounded by the lake, which gave the town its name. A causeway connects the temple in the middle of the pool and a loudspeaker broadcasts a continuous reading of the Granth Sahib in Punjabi. The high priest who reads from the Sikh's holy book sits on the east side of the temple. The original copy of the Granth Sahib is kept in the Golden Temple and is occasionally taken out on procession. There is also a temple garden to the south side of the temple enclosure and the Baba Atal Tower stands in this garden. The tall Ramgarhia Minars stand outside the temple enclosure.

Pilgrims and visitors to the Golden Temple must remove their shoes and cover their heads before entering the temple precincts. An English-speaking guide is available at the clock tower, which marks the temple entrance. The Central Sikh Museum is upstairs in the clock tower.

The Old City
A 15-minute walk from the Golden Temple, through the narrow alleys of the old city, brings you to the Hindu temple known as Durgiana. This small temple, dedicated to the goddess Durga, dates back to the 16th century. A larger temple, built like the Golden Temple in the center of a lake, is dedicated to the Hindu deities Laxmi and Narayan. There are a number of mosques in the old city including the mosque of Muhammad Jan with three white domes and slender minarets. To the southwest of the city stands the Fort of Govindgarh, which was built in 1805-09 by Ranjit Singh, who was also responsible for the city walls.

Jalianwala Bagh
This park is just five minutes' walk from the Golden Temple and commemorates the death of 2000 Indians at this site, who were shot indiscriminately by the British in 1919. This was one of the major events in India's struggles for independence and was movingly recreated in the film 'Gandhi'. Bullet marks and the well into which some people jumped to escape can still be seen.

Ram Bagh
This beautiful garden is in the new part of town and also has a museum in the small palace built there by the Sikh Maharajah Ranjit Singh. The museum contains weapons dating back to the Moghul times and some portraits of the ruling houses of the Punjab.

The Govindgarh Fort, built by Rajit Singh in 1809, is a little southwest of the city center. Tarn Taran is an important Sikh tank, about 25 km south of Amritsar. There's a temple and tower on the east side of the tank, which was also constructed by Ranjit Singh. The temple predates Amritsar. It's said that any leper who can swim across the tank will be miraculously cured


DilwaraJaisalmer is spectacular. The drive from Jodhpur is very pleasant. Approaching from the desert seems suddenly to rise out of the desert haze, a magnificent edifice of massive yellow sandstone ramparts and bastions bathed golden in the afternoon sun.

Rawal Jaisal laid the foundation of this city in 1156. Trikuta hill was chosen for the site of the new city and Jaisal abandoned his old fort and established this new capital. The bhati Rajputs of Jaisalmer were feudal chiefs who lived off the forced levy on the caravans that crossed their territory enroute Delhi or Sind. These caravans, laden with precious cargoes of spices and silk brought great wealth to this town. Because of its remote location, Jaisalmer for years remained untouched by outside influences and during the British Raj the Rulers of Jaisalmer were the last to sign the instrument of Agreement with the British.

The glory of Jaisalmer faded when sea trade replaced old land routs. But there is still 'Arabian Nights' quality about the town. The narrow streets in the walled city preserve a traditional way of life; the craftsmen still work at the ancient crafts of weaving and stone carving, the making of silver jewelry and embroidery. And the stately, nonchalant camel is everywhere. Just a walk through JAISALMER, savoring the medieval glory of old Rajasthan, is a marvelously rewarding travel experience. Winter is the perfect time for Jaisalmer. Jaisalmer's desert Festival, celebrated in January/February is a must on any itinerary. The desert seems to bloom in the thousand colors. There are camel races and folk dances. Craft bazaars and traditional ballad singing, and a sound and light spectacle on the sand dunes of Sam on the full moon night.

The fort: The golden-hued Jaisalmer Fort'Sonar Kella' can be seen miles away before reaching the town. The fort stands almost 30 meters over the city and houses an entire living area within its huge ramparts. Walking through the narrow lanes is an experience worth savouring.

It is approached through Ganesh Pol, Suraj Pol, Bhoota Pol and Java Pol. Also within it are many beautiful havelies and a group of Jain temples dating from the 12th to the 15 centuries.

Outside the fort is the main market place called Manak Chowk the center of local activities. From Manak Chowk one can walk into the lanes where the famous carved havelies are to be found. Each haveli' facade differs from other.

A rain water lake, now a picnic spot ideal for boating. All round the lake are many small shrines and a spectacular variety of birds can be seen here.

Delicate pagoda like Tazia Tower rises from Badal Mahal. Tazias are ornately decorated bamboo, paper and finest replicas of a bier carried in procession during Mohurram by the Muslims.

Jaisalmer is famous for its intricately latticed havelies with conspicuous facades.

Carved by two brothers in the 19th century, the intricate architecture in stone is the epitome of skill and beauty. Painting in the miniature style adorn the interior walls.

Five storeys high with extensive corridors and chambers all supported by exquisitely carved , it is one of the largest and most elaborate havelis in Jaisalmer.

Distinctive for its blue cupola root, this extraordinary mansion in yellow stone is covered entirely with intricate carving and has an elaborate projecting balcony adorning the top storey.

Within the fort complex are many beautiful Jain temples, dedicated to Rishabdev, Sambhavnath and Parswanath the Jain Thirthankars.

Established as a part of Jain temples, the library contains some of the oldest manuscripts found in India.

Folk Dances of Rajasthan

DilwaraThe people of Rajasthan live life to the hilt. After hard work in the harsh desert, sun and the rocky terrain wherever they take time off they let themselves go in gay abandon. There is dancing, singing, drama, devotional music and puppet shows and other community festivities, which transform the hardworking Rajasthani into a fun-loving and carefree individual. Each region has its own folk entertainment; the dance styles differ, as do the songs. Interestingly even the musical instruments are different.

Of considerable significance are the devotional songs and the communities who render these songs. Professional performers like the Bhaats, Dholis, Mirasis, Nats, Bhopas and Bhands are omnipresent across the state. They are patronized by the villagers, who participate actively in the shows put up by these traveling entertainers.

Some of the betterknown forms of entertainments are:

DilwaraGhoomer Dance: This is basically a community dance for women and performed on auspicious occasions. Derived from the word ghoomma, piroutte, this is a very simple dance where the ladies move gently, gracefully in circles.
Gair Ghoomer: This is one of the many dance-forms of the Bhils tribals. Performed during Holi festival, this is among a few performances where both men and women dance together.

Gair: Another Holi dance but performed only by men. This becomes Dandia Gair in Jodhpur and Geendad in Shekhawati.

Chari Dance: This is popular in the Kishengarh region and involves dancing with a chari, or pot, on one's head. A lighted lamp is then placed on the pot.

Kachhi Ghodi: This is a dance performed on dummy horses. Men in elaborate costumes ride the equally well-decorated dummy horses. Holding naked swords, these dancers move rhythmically to the beating of drums and fifes. A singer narrates the exploits of the Bavaria bandits of Shekhawati.

Fire Dance: The Jasnathis of Bikaner and Churu are renowned for their tantric powers and this dance is in keeping with their lifestyles.

Dilwara Temple

DilwaraThese Jain temples are Mt Abu's main attraction and amongst the finest examples of Jain architecture in India. These include two temples where the art of carving marble has been carried to unsurpassed heights. The older of these temples in the Vimal Vasahi, which is dedicated to the first Tirthankar, Adinath, was built in 1031. The central shrine has an image of Adinath, while around the courtyard are 52 identical cells, each with a Buddha-like cross-legged image. The entrance to the courtyard is formed by 48 elegantly carved pillars, In front of the temple stands the House of Elephants with figures of elephants marching in procession to the temple entrance.

The later Tejpal temple is dedicated to Neminath, the 22nd Tirthankar, and was built in 1230 by the brothers Tejpal and Vastupal. Like Vimal they were ministers in the government of the ruler of Gujarat. Although the Tejpal temple is important as an extremely old and complete example of a Jain temple, its most notable feature is the fantastic intricacy and delicacy of the marble carving. In places the carving is so fine that the marble becomes almost transparent. In particular, the lotus flower, which hangs from the center of the dome, is an incredible piece of work. It's difficult to believe that this huge lace-like filigree actually started as a solid block of marble. The temple employs several full-time stone-carvers to maintain and restore the work.

There are three other temples in the enclosure. The complex is open from 12 noon to 6 pm. Note that no leather at all is permitted in the complex- apart from removing shoes or sandals you must take off belts and even camera cases if they are leather. You can stroll out to Dilwara in less than an hour from the town. dilwara
Achalgarh (11km)

The Shiva temple of Achaleshwar Mahandeva has a number of interesting features including a toe of Shiva, a brass Nandi, and where the Shiva lingam would normally be a deep hole said to extend all the way to the underworld. Out side, by car park, is a tank beside which are three stone buffaloes and the figure of a king shooting them with a bow and arrows. A legend states that the tank was once filled with ghee but demons in the form of buffaloes, came down and drank it each night- until the king shot them. A path leads up the hillside to a group of colorful Jain temples with fine views out over the plains.

Guru Shikhar (15km)

At the end of the plateau is 1721 meter Guru Shikhar the highest point in Rajasthan. There is now a road almost up to the summit. On the top there is the Atri Rishi Temple and there are good views all around.
Gaumuckh Temple (8km)

Down on the Abu Road side of Mount Abu a small stream flows from the mouth of a marble cow giving the shrine its name. There is also a marble Geiger of the bull Nandi, Shiva's vehicle. The tank here, Agni Kund is said to be the site for the sacrificial fire made by the sage Vasishta from which four of the great Rajpur clans were born. An image of Vasishta is flanked by figures of Rama and Krishna.

Time for Rejuvenation

DiwaliDiwali is celebrated almost all over the country and everywhere it cements relationships. Gifts and sweets are exchanged. Friends and relatives visit each other and in many places, chiefly in the north, nightlong card sessions are in vogue. For businessmen, Diwali is the festival of the year. They celebrate it with gusto. Even hi-fi business houses that deal in computer software and their representatives hop-hopping around the globe must hold a traditional Lakshmi puja. For the people of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh and for Marwaris anywhere, the day after Diwali is the first day of the new financial year when they start new account books with the blessings of the goddess.

In Bengal, Diwali coincides with kali Puja, Lakshmi being worshipped on a different day. Though much of the fervor of the devotees is already spent over Durga Puja, even so the images of the fearsome goddess are ensconced in pandals all over. Lamps are lighted and devotional music rings loud and clear till the following day when the images are ceremonially consigned to the river.

In Tamil Nadu, Diwali is more a daytime festival, beginning with an early morning ritual oil bath and brand new cloths, followed by a visit to the temple. The day meander through hours of meeting friends and relatives, giving and receiving gifts and feasting, particularly if there be a newly wed daughter in the family. It concludes with a lively session of crackers and fireworks. Lamps are lighted but selectively, not all over the house, as in north India.

Diwali candles have, to a large extent, taken over the twinkling from earthen diyas. Who has the time nowadays to twist wicks out of raw cotton and to fill each individual diya with oil? But crackers and fireworks have come into their own, vying with each other for range, variety and eye appeal, also sadly, noise and smoke. It's perfectly possible to drape the night in stars without an almighty bang that also releases a pall of smoke. Most of the money spent on a Diwali celebration only seeks to project an image. But, in spite of the element of consumerism that has recently crept in, Diwali remains one of the loveliest of Indian festivals.

The sweets and lights and crackers and jostling crowds are only the final flowering of the Diwali spirit. The resurgence starts much earlier. In north India, Diwali is part of a grand procession of autumn festivals and families spend much of the year saving up for it. Company bonuses are suitably timed and Diwali shopping is the standard occupation of householders for weeks. Consumer goods flood the market and there are sales galore, to say nothing of Diwali melas (fairs) packed with fun and color and temptation.

People find ingenious ways of generating a little extra cash to spend around Diwali. Most people who get car parts replaced at his garage simply dumb the defective parts and drive off. The mechanic carefully tucks these away in his loft. Come Diwali and he has a solid pile of metal scrap to sell to the kabadi and rustle up a few thousand rupees.

Till distemper and plastic emulsion appeared on the scene, every single urban home was lime washed for Diwali every year for cosmetic reasons and to lay on a befitting welcome to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, who likes homes to be clean. Diwali is also an occasion for throwing away old, unwanted stuff.

Lakshmi and Ganesh are duly worshipped on the night of Diwali with all the traditional offering of sweets, flowers, fruit and money, even a brand new gold ornament or two, brought especially for the occasion. The diya lighted in homage to Lakshmi is shaped to hold four wicks and is filled with clarified butter instead of oil. Being able to keep the Diya alight till the wee hours of the morning means that Lakshmi will be pleased to grace your home with her presence for the twelve months to come.


DussheraIndia, like any other country of the orient, abounds in colorful and spectacular festivals and observances of the secular and religious character. If the Republic Day spectacle of January 26 each year is one of the most glittering combined show of a rich cultural heritage and modest muscle power of the nation, the Dussehra celebrations in the country provide an example of festivity which brings out the best in the creative endeavors of our people in fields as diverse as effigy-making and music, fireworks and dance; and, theatre both of the folk and sophisticated kind.

The most magnificent of all Dussehra celebrations in terms of pomp, pretensions and pageantry is that of Mysore. Equally famous, nationally and internationally, is that of Kulu in the hill state of Himachal attracting people from such distant states as West Bengal and Gujarat and an ever-increasing number of tourists from Europe anDurga  Pujad North American continent.

The Kulu Dussehra, though a simple observance compared to that of pretentious Mysore, is studded with some very unique features and aspects that deserve to be highlighted for the benefit of those who may be interested in minor events of some major significance.

It needs to be highlighted that Kulu Dussehra is the oldest recorded festivity anywhere in the country connected with Raghunathji, popularly recognized as Lord Rama. It is not my contention though that Dussehra, or a festival connected with Ram Chanraji was not observed else where in the country before this date. What is being stressed here is the fact that the date marking the beginning of this observance in Kulu, July 1651, is historically recorded and that any such celebration elsewhere makes no such claims of proven historic antiquity.

The festivities began in Kulu in the late afternoon of the tenth day of the waxing moon of the month of Ashwin (Asadh) which otherwise is known as Vijay Dashmi. It may be noted that the Dussehra festivities elsewhere in the country conclude, almost around the same time when the Kulu Dussehra opens. Unlike the festival elsewhere which runs over full ten days, Kulu Dussehra lasts only seven days.

But the most striking feature of this edition of Dussehra is total absence of staging or retelling the story of Ramayana. Nor are there effigies of Ravana, the learned Brahmin gone astray, and his warrior colleagues, to be set afire, after a mock battle, to bring the festivities to a grand finale.


 Mahabalipuram Mahabalipuram was the second capital and seaport of the Pallava kings of Kanchipuram, the first Tamil dynasty of any real consequence to emerge after the fall of the Gupta Empire, and is world famous for its shore temple. Though their origins are lost in the mists of legend they were at the height of the political power and artistic creativity between the 5th and 8th centuries AD, during which time they established themselves as the arbiters and patrons of early Tamil culture. Most of the temple and rock carvings here were completed during the reigns of Narasimha Varman I (630-668 AD) and Narasimha Verman II (700-728 AD) and are notable for the delightful freshness and simplicity of their folk art origins in contrast to the more grandiose monuments left by the larger empires, such as the Cholas which succeeded them. The shore temples in particular strike a very romantic theme and are some of the most photographed monuments in India.

The wealth of the Pallava kingdom was based on the encouragement of agriculture as against pastoralism and thus the increased taxes and surplus produce which could be raised from this lifestyle. Their early kings were followers of the Jain religion but this came to an end when Mahendra Varman I (600-630 AD) was converted to Shaivism by the saint, Appar. This conversion was to have disastrous effects on the future of Jainism in Tamil Nadu and explains why the majority of the temples at Mahabalipuram (and Kanchipuram) are dedicated either to Shiva or Vishnu.

Today, Mahabalipuram is just a small, but very pleasant and easy-going village consisting of essentially two streets standing at the foot of low-lying boulder-strewn hill where most of the temples and rock carvings are located. It's gradually becoming a travelers haunt, though still in the formative stages as people rent houses and stay here for some time and cafes are set up catering to western tastes - usually seafood. After the noise fumes bustle and severely limited personal space of Madras and other large cities, Mahabalipuram is like coming to another planet. It's very relaxing and there is of course a long stretch of superb beach. Nowhere else in southern India will you find this combination of an excellent, cheap accommodation, good seafood and the fascinating remains of an ancient Indian kingdom.

The sculpture here is particularly interesting because it shows scenes of day to day life- women milking buffaloes, portentous city dignitaries, young girls singing at street corners swinging their hips in artful ways. By contrast other carvings throughout the state represent gods and goddesses, and images of ordinary folk are conspicuous by their absence. Soften carving is still very much a living craft in Mahabalipuram as a visit to the School of Sculpture will show.


{short description of image}The Meenakshi Temple attracts pilgrims from all over India in thousands every day. Its enormous gopurams, profusely covered with gaily colored statues, dominate the landscape for far around, and are visible from many of the rooftops in Madurai. It is named after the daughter of a Pandyan king who, legend has it, was born with three breasts. The king was told at the time of her birth that the extra breast would disappear when she met the man she was to marry, and this duly happened when she met Lord Shiva on Mt. Kailas. Shiva told her to return to Madurai and eight days later arrived there himself in the form of Lord Sundareshwara to marry her.

The present temple was designed in 1560 by Vishwanatha Nayak and substantially built during the reign of Rigumalai Nayak (1623-55 AD), but it has a history going back 2000 years to the times when Madurai was the capital of the Pandya kings.

Depending on the time of day, you can bargain for bangles, spices or saris in the bazaar between the outer and inner walls of the temple, watch pilgrims bathing in the tanks, listen to temple music in front of the Meenakshi Amman shrine (which is relayed through the whole complex on a PA system) wander through the interesting museum climb to the top of a gopuram. It's a city within a city and many travelers spend days exploring its labyrintine corridors and halls. There's even a railway timetable posted on the wall near the Meenakshi shrine.

Part of the temple complex has been converted into a museum - the Temple Art Gallery, which is well worth a visit, even though it's decidedly dilapidated these days and many labels are missing. It contains some beautiful stone and brass images, examples of ancient North Indian scripts, friezes and various attempts to explain the Hindu pantheon and the many legends associated with it.

You can climb to the top of the south facing gopuram between 6 am and 5.30 pm. Buy a ticket from the office on the left as you enter the temple. A guide takes you up there via the many winding, grimy and gradually narrower and narrower stairways. If you suffer from vertigo this climb is not for you since you emerge on the very top of the gopuram and there are no restraining rails and very little else to hold on to, but the views are excellent! On the way down the guide will hassle you for a 'tip'.

On most evenings between 6 and 6.30 pm and between 9 and 10 pm temple music is played outside the Meenakshi Amman shrine- mantras fiddle, squeeze box, tables and bells. It's well worth making a point of going there to hear this, as there are some excellent musicians among those who play.

The temple in general is open between 5 am and 12.30 pm and again between 4 and 10 pm. Photography is allowed inside only between 12.30 and 4 pm. You can leave your shoes at any one of the four entrances where they will be looked after. Many of the priests inside are very friendly and will take the trouble to show you around and explain what's happening if you'd prefer that.


{short description of image}Twenty miles to the North-east of Puri, along the seacoast, and 54 miles by motorable road via Pipli, lie the stupendous remains of the wonderful temple of Konarak dominating the lonely grandeur of a fine sandy stretch on the Bay of Bengal. Built by Narasingha Deva I, the Ruler of Orissa, in the 13th century in honor of the Sun God, the temple has no parallel in India for its profusion of sculptural wealth. It powerfully conveys the idea of the Sun-god speeding through the heavens in a chariot drawn by horses driven by Arjuna.

There are sufficient remains to show that the Hindu builders possessed not only the poetic fancy to conceive great artistic creations, but also the technical skill to reproduce their dreams in stone on a gigantic, and yet highly imaginative scale. Scrolls scenes of battle and the chase, all are carved with amazing skill and with an extraordinary inspiration.

The main entrance from the Tourist bungalow side is guarded by two stone lions, crushing elephants steps ascend to the main entrance, flanked by the straining horses. The three images of Surya the Sun God still stand and are designed to catch the sun at dawn at noon and at sunset. Between the main steps up to the Jagamohan and the enclosure entrance is an intricately carved dancing hall or nata mandir. To the north is a group of elephants and to the south a group of rearing horses, trampling down men.

All around the base of the temple and up the walls and roof is a continuous procession of carvings. Many are in the erotic style for which Konarak like Khajuraho is so famous. These erotic images of entwined couples, solitary exhibitionists, can be minute images on the spoke of a temple wheel or life-size figures higher up the walls.

Outside the temple enclosure there is a museum (open 9 am to 5 pm) containing many sculptures and carvings found during the temple excavation. The sea is a couple of km from the temple you can walk there or hire a bicycle rickshaw. The temple by sailors in contrast to the whitewashed temples of Puri is said to have contained a great mass of iron, which would draw unwary ships into the shore.

Almost every inch of the outside surface is covered with carvings portraying with a daring fidelity the vast panorama of life. All the variety of human experience, from its lowest to its highest expression is here depicted with a liveliness and exuberance of vitality which takes one's breath away. It is as though the master artist who designed this temple of the sun had realized that since the Sun warms all life, every form and expression of it is sacred, from the most carnal to the most refined. Sir John Marshall says: "There is no monument of Hinduism, I think that is at once so stupendous and so perfectly proportioned."

From the ruins that now remains the sculptural splendor of the original temple can only be imagined, for the main shrine collapsed many years ago all that now remains of the main temple is its adjunct, the audience hall which too be closed from all sides and filled up with rubble and sand to prevent collapse. But what still remains is breathtaking.

"Konarak is a living testimony to the speculative daring and artistic sensibility of an ancient people who knew how to live, love worship and create in heroic proportions". A trip to Konarak is a veritable pilgrimage to India's glorious past. Visitors to Puri must not miss it whatever the inconvenience.


{short description of image}23 miles from Kathgodam, linked by a spectacular mountain road, and on the shore of a fairy like lake in a cup between pine-clad hills, is Nainital (6,500 ft.), a Himalayan hill station of great beauty.

Coming up from Kathgodam by car or motor bus the eye can hardly believe what it sees; for, as the vehicle rises 6,500 feet, there lies this shining water, still and majestic, more than a mile long and surrounded by green slopes of idyllic beauty. A fine road (the Mall) passes along the eastern shore which is the showplace of the town, and on its side are situated most of the hotels, residences and shops. The lake lies north to south, and horse-ride or walk from Talli Tal (Southern end) to Malli Tal (Northern end) through the romantic setting of the eastern shore is the chief vocation of the visitors to Nainital.

The highest peaks, Cheena 8,568 ft. and Deapatta, 7,587 ft. are to the north and can be ascended to by the more hardy. A pretty ride on the west side of the Lake is a favorite pastime, the road as leading to a considerable height through wooded slopes. But the finest view is obtained from the east side, from sher ka danda and its top Laria Kanta, whence the snowy ranges of Almora and Ranikhet may be seen.

There is seldom an hour of dullness at Nainital. Added to the invigorating climate there is a large choice of sports and mountaineering. Besides these, there is excellent yachting and boating on the lake and plenty of swimming and fishing in it.

Excursions from Nainital
Nainital is the ideal base for excursions. The hill stations and the beauty spots of the Kumayun hills which, besides fishing, hiking and shooting afford wonderful view of the snowy Himalayan peaks.

Bhowali & Bhimtal
7 miles east of Nainital, through a romantic mountain road, is Bhowali, a quiet sanatorium hidden by tall trees and thickly wooded forests, Leaving Nainital, the bus to Bhimtal (14 miles) by bus via Bhowali and 10 miles by pony by short cut) halts for a few minutes at the Bhowali bazar and then proceeds another 7 miles south east for Bhimtal which contains one of the largest lakes in the Kumayun hills. This triangular lake was once an ideal spot for fishing but fishing is not allowed at present. A detached pavilion rising from the waters of the lake provides a charming picnic spot. At the southeast shore of the lake stands the palace of the Maharaja of Jind, who was a great connoisseur of dogs; the south-west which is fringed by picturesque wooded hills. From this point Kathgoadm is only 7 miles by a bridle path.

About two and a half miles east of Bhimtal is Naukuchia Tal, the nine-cornered lake, reached by a newly built, fine metalled road. The Tal, the largest in the Kumayun is fenced by oak forests on three sides and is said to be 180 feet deep. There is a dreamy beauty about the spot, which is also an ideal place for fishing. In the neighboring village called shilloh was born Pandit Gobinda Ballabh Pant. Nainital was also the haunting ground of Jim Corbett, the famous author.

There is a spacious District Board Dak Bungalow at Bhimtal where one can stay for a few days while holidaying in Bhimtal, Naukauchia Tal and Sat Tal are another lovely spots on the way to Bhimtal. The Sat Tal group of lakes lie 1.5 m. south of the motor road, midway between Bhowali and Bhimtal.

8 miles from Bhowali and 15 miles from Nainital by bus is Ramgarh, one of the prettiest spots and the home of orchards. Beautifully set amidst luxuriant vegetation, it has an excellent climate and presents a good view of the distant snow. The State Government has established a Fruit Preservation Factory at Ramgarh. There is a P.W.D. Dak Bungalow. Cottages are available on monthly hire. There is a direct bus service from Kathgodam via Bhowali and Ramgarh.

"The Wonder Called Taj Mahal"

{short description of image}Every visitor must pay homage to the Taj Mahal, the most glorious tomb that grief ever raised in memory of love, and one of the wonders of the world. According to the Badshahanama, Mumtaz Mahal was married to the Emperor Shah Jahan in 1612 when she was only twenty-one years old. Although his second wife, Mumtaz enjoyed the undivided love of the Emperor. She bore him fourteen children and died in child-bed in a camp at Burhanpur during a campaign against Lodi Khan in 1631. The bereavement, too great for the Emperor to bear,turned his hair grey. The beloved body was temporarily buried at Burhanpur; six months later, a vast funeral cortege accompanied it to Agra, where it was laid in the garden of the Taj, which belonged to Raja Jai Singh at the time. The Taj was begun in 1631 and together with its appurtenances - a mosque on the west, a congregational hall (Jamat Khana) on the east and the main gateway on the south- was completed by 1653. In his determination to raise to her memory a monument, which should keep her name immortal, the emperor employed 20,000 men daily upon it. The most famous artists and workmen of India were gathered to this task, which entailed an expenditure of 400 lakhs of rupees.

The Taj Mahal, the glory of Agra and the most beautiful building in the world is set in a garden with a marble platform at the center and is surrounded by dark cypress trees, green turf, flowers and fountains, the song of birds meets the ear, and the odor of roses and lemon flows sweet in the air". Seen by day-light the reflection of its detail and its most wonderful beauty and magnificence delight the connoisseur, but seen by moonlight it is a radiant vision of beauty, and the charm of its lovely form is felt to the full. The great domes seem to swim in the silver light, and the stately minarets shoot up towards the dark blue of the sky, and the scene is one of unearthly beauty, which no language can express. The beauty of the Taj, says Havell, as in all great art, lies in its simplicity. One wonders that so much beauty can come from so little effort. Yet nothing is wanting in excess. One could not alter this and that and say that it is better".

"Glorious as is this mighty building in the mass, it is just as full of beauty when examined closely and in detail. Every part is covered with the most graceful and exquisite designs inlaid in marbles of different colors. Every wall, every arch, every portal is ornamented and finished as if the craftsmen had been engaged upon a precious casket instead of a corner of an immense palace tomb". Around the arches run inlaid verses of the Koran beautifully shaped in black marble, and it is said the whole of the Koran is thus inlaid in the Taj.

The heart of the building is the central chamber where Shah Jahan and his wife sleep together, for he was laid beside her. The tombs are of the purest white marble inlaid most beautifully with designs formed of agate, cornelian, lapis-lazuli, jasper, and other precious stones. The tombs are surrounded by a pierced marble-screen. Fergusson says that no words can express the chastened beauty of the hall seen in the soft gloom of the subdued light coming from the distant and small openings. The cenotaph was originally enclosed by a screen of gold and studded with gems. This was removed by Aurangzeb and replaced by the present exquisite screen of pierced marble.

The real graves however lie elsewhere- in a vault immediately under the central, chamber. A steep passage leads down to the vault, where the bodies rest level with the surface of the ground, beneath plainer tombstones. Although they are now plain to bareness, the encircling walls and ceilings were once covered with sheets of purest gold.

Dear as Mumtaz Mahal was to him, Shah Jahan never intended to lie beside her in the Taj. His idea was to construct a still more majestic mausoleum for himself on the opposite bank of the Jamuna and to connect the two by a white marble bridge. The project was interrupted shortly after the foundations were laid and was never completed. The idea did not appeal to Aurangzeb. That austere Muslim ultimately laid his father beside his mother in the Taj Mahal.

The two mosques on either side of the Taj greatly add to the beauty of the cemetery. The one on the west was used for prayers and the other on the east for congregational discourse. The Taj also formerly possessed two wonderful silver doors. These were looted and melted by the Jats in 1764


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