Tuesday, 13 August 2019

When in Jaipur... Part 2 - Jaipur in a Day

The name that resonates with Royalty, Vibrance, Colours, Music, Festivities, Forts and Palaces, Leheriya and Bandni, Kachoris and Dal Bati Churma, and the colour Pink is JAIPUR. A must visit destination on every traveller’s bucket list, Jaipur has so much to offer to everyone that a day is too short a duration to experience this lovely carnival of a city. This is a short guide to quickly cover sightseeing of this beautiful city in just a day. For shopping you need another day and a comprehensive guide is available here.

Begin the day with the tour-des-Forts. Jaipur proudly boasts of presence of three majestic hill Forts - Jaigarh, Nahargarh and Amer. Each Fort is definitely worth a visit and no two forts are alike, while Nahargarh offers panoramic views of the Pink City and has a modern art gallery inside its courtyards, Jaigarh houses the largest cannon in the world The Jai Vaan and also a thoughtfully curated weaponry museum but the most visited Fort remains the Amer Fort or Amber Fort reasons being, easy accessibility as compared to the other two Forts, original grandeur restored and preserved well, is surrounded by many manicured gardens, is a chosen location for many a film shoots and Elephant rides add another huge attraction. Amer also is home to Mata Shila Devi, a revered Goddess among the Rajputs and many other communities from Rajasthan and neighbouring states. Since this article is about covering the city in a day, we recommend you take a jeep ride up to the Fort to save time. We highly recommend you to take the assistance of an audio / personal guide as the visit remains incomplete unless you understand the details of every aspect of not just the architecture but also the history of the magnanimous Fort and Palace.

Picture Courtesy : Mr.Hemant Sharma

Jaipur is a photographers’ paradise. Groups of photographers climb up the many forts each morning to get their magical shots of sunrises and cityscapes in the surreal hues. One such popular photo-opp stop is on the road in front of the Amer Fort which gives spectacular panoramic shots of the Fort. Take a quick stop here and feed the Canons and Nikons or your Phone cameras with the delights of the sights around. And before you head back to the city, remember to pick the famous namkeen and mithai (locally known as Ganthia and Gundi) from Amer, available at most of the shops around the main road of Old Amer Town.

Picture Courtesy : Mr.Hemant Sharma

Next photo-opp stop is the Jalmahal. Built for the kings as a leisure palace in the middle of a water reservoir, The Jalmahal again is one of the most photographed locations of the city, vying for the top slot in close competition with The Amer Fort and The Hawa Mahal. 

Next is The Hawa Mahal which is more like a wall with windows and not really a Palace as the name suggests. The structure was built for the women of the noble families to sit in the many windows, unnoticed by the general public below and watch the processions during festivals like Teej and Gangaur. Read more about Gangaur here. The market around Hawa Mahal stocks Jaipuri Razais, Jaipuri Jutis, Bangles, Silverware, Fabrics and Handcrafted Artefacts. A gentle reminder : we are covering Jaipur in a day, shopping must wait for another day!

Your next stop : The City Palace where the erstwhile Royal Family still resides in a private section. A large part of the Palace however has been converted into a museum that showcases the Royal Era of Jaipur and Rajputana. The various sections of the museum house textiles, garments, weapons and armoury, artefacts and things of daily use used by the Maharajas, ancient manuscripts and carpets, a transport gallery and beautifully hand-painted but realistic portraits and paintings. The museum is not just famous for the collection but also for its architecture. The doors of various sections here symbolise different seasons. There is a Leheriya Gate, a Peacock Gate, Lotus Gate and a Shiv-Parvati gate. The City Palace also serves up some sumptuous snacks and beverages for the tired tourists in the Palace Cafe.

City Palace Pictures : From the Internet

Right in front of the City Palace is the UNESCO World Heritage site of Jantar Mantar, the observatory that houses The World’s largest Stone Sun Dial and other astronomical instruments. His highness Sawai Jai Singh Ji II, the founder of Jaipur was a scholar and a learned man with his interests in such varied subjects as astrology, astronomy and architecture and built this one of its kind marvel. Do check the time at the Sun Dial and come back amazed. After all, Jaipur must stay with you long after your visit is over!

Take a lunch break here to refuel yourself and move onto the second part of your Jaipur in a Day Tour which must be spent soaking in the beauteous and impressive architecture of The World Heritage City.

Take a tour of the Ramniwas Bagh complex at the centre of which is The Albert Hall Museum which houses collections of fine bone china, silverware, swords and hold your breath (!) An Egyptian Mummy! Another photo-opp locale Albert Hall is a favoured spot among locals for feeding pigeons. The flocks of pigeons add an interesting element to the picture compositions. The complex also has the famous Masala Chowk - a street food bonanza that comes alive every evening. 

From Albert Hall, take the route through MI road, Panch Batti Circle, Rajmandir cinema hall and reach the Statue Circle. The most beautiful road in all of Jaipur is this very road that connects Panch Batti to New Vidhansabha. Statue Circle is a mini carnival in itself every evening with ice cream and street food vendors and balloons and toy sellers all around. The New Vidhansabha building is yet another awe-inspiring architectural wonder. Aesthetically designed keeping in mind the existing architecture of Jaipur, it blends in very beautifully with the rest of the city.

If time permits, do visit the Moti Dungri Ganesh Temple and Birla Mandir before heading to Chokhi Dhani for an authentic Rajasthani dinner. The village themed restaurant is not a regular “get in - eat - leave” kind of a place but a centre that exhibits local art, culture and flavours in the truest forms. Right from the traditional welcome to the village-fair experience and the customary “manuhar” at dinner to the “Pachha Padharjo Sa” or please visit again adieu, it is an experience to be thoroughly enjoyed.

The other attractions of Jaipur include : A heritage Water Walk at Nahargarh Fort, Biological Park at Nahargarh, Kanak Vrindawan Gardens, Hathi Gaon, Sisodiya Gardens, Galta Ji, Leopard Safari at Jhalana, Heritage and Food Walks through old Pink City, Heritage Walk through Sanganer, exploring Bagru, night tour of Jaipur and many more such wonders.

Explore the heritage, culture and traditions of Jaipur with us. Click here to get a customised tour plan made just for you.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

When in Jaipur… Part 1 - Shopping Guide

Jaipur is known World over as the city of Forts and Palaces, the city of Royalty and of course a foodies’ and shopper’s paradise. Be it the exquisite Gems and Jewellery or the handcrafted toys and artefacts - Jaipur has something for everyone. We today bring you a gist of the many lovely things that a shopper can fill their shopping bags with in Jaipur. Foodies, you need to wait for the Part 2.

To make things simpler, let’s take you on a tour from one market to another telling you all about the specialities these markets are known for. But first things first, Link Road in Bapu Bazaar is the foodies’ paradise and we too like a true blue Jaipurite start our tour from here with some Chaat and Falooda to provide us with the much needed energy to last us through the day. We will stop over for lunch at LMB, but that’s another story.

We begin our shopping trip from Bapu Bazaar itself which is one of the main and many well-designed and laid out marketplaces of the Pink City. The shops display an array of Lac Jewellery, Imitation Jewellery, Bangles in vibrant colours, Leather Mojris and Bags, Readymade garments in Tie and Dye and Hand Block Prints, Sarees and dress material - cottons and chiffons being the most popular choices, handicrafts - puppets, toys, key rings, pens, artefacts, mirror frames, etc etc., - there is so so much to see and buy in this lovely market of Jaipur. Take your leisurely time to window shop or to pick some souvenirs for yourself.

The straight lane that Bapu Bazaar is converges into a perpendicular road called Johri Bazaar which connects Sanganeri Gate and Badi Chopar. This is the most famous market for tourists and locals alike. The shops towards the Sanganeri Gate end store the secrets from the Maharajas’ Kitchens - yes! These are the spice and condiments shops and stock everything that your kitchen might need. From freshly ground regular spices to some of the exotic ones, they also keep spice mixes that come in handy when you want to try your hands at the authentic Rajasthani dishes. You may find the local ingredients and dried versions of the locally sourced vegetables too like Ker, Sangri, Kachri etc.

Next comes the chiffon and cotton paradise with the most beautiful tie-dye patterns on sarees, turbans, dupattas and dress material. Jaipur is also known for its “Gota” work and you can easily find something that you would love to add to your wardrobe here. This is the market that the brides-to-be come to for their trousseau shopping. Silver jewellery and Gem Stones jewellery shops also line this market very prominently. Approach Badi Chopar and it is no less than a Shopper’s Utopia! Hand made perfumes called Itra or Ittar, handcrafted wall decor pieces with intricate embroidery and mirror work, fabrics, bangles, handicrafts, mojris, imitation as well as real jewellery and hand block printed bedspreads - think of it and it is there! The quintessential collectible from Jaipur is the Jaipuri Razai - the featherlight cotton-filled quilts that come in Cotton and Velvet versions. This you have to definitely add to your Linen collection. 

Club your shopping with a bit of Sight seeing and go towards the JalMahal, the intervening market is the hub for carpet and GI tagged Blue Pottery shopping. You may alternatively choose to take a walk with us through the Industrial Town of Sanganer to pick up your stash of Blue Pottery, Hand Block printed textiles and Hand Made Paper. More information on the walk is available here.

While browsing through the very many shops we crossed the famous Laxmi Misthan Bhandar, to satiate the hunger pangs let us go back there for the best Ras Malai and Aloo Tikki Chaat in town. Lunch options too are galore here, but that is for a later time.

Next comes our spinal road, the road that is still unsure if it is a road (that’s us Jaipurites’ inside joke), the M I Road. One walk across the length of this road can give you a glimpse of what Jaipur is all about in just forty minutes. The buildings call for your attention for the brilliant architecture, the shops whistle out with all the lovely wares they display, the eateries whisper the names of the mouth watering dishes in your ears, the jewels and gems wink a colourful wink, the handicrafts stores wave at you and the famous Lassi shop just smiles at you, well knowing that you would end your walk with a tall glass of rose flavoured lassi.

Monday, 15 April 2019

A walk with a difference - tracing the footsteps of water!!

Thousands have lived without love, not one without water said W H Auden many years ago. Water is Life. Who better than the people of Rajasthan would know the true meaning of these statements. The land that has forever lived with scarcity of water. The important word here is “lived”! Yes, lived and survived and thrived. And continues to do so.

Today, let us make an attempt at understanding the creations of the masterminds of the people of yore. How in such trying times they created a self sufficient system of rain water harvesting, and created channels which guided the stored water to the end user without wasting a single drop!

Our story telling friend is a knowledgable water-space professional who also has a deep connection with the water systems of Rajasthan. As deep as 300 years stacked one on top of the other! To know more about this connection, come with us and walk through an era. We start from today, take you 300 years back and bring you to the future. 

The dry state of Rajasthan might be very low on water supply but has no dearth of hope and positivity. We don’t measure our water in litres, we talk of millions and zillions of droplets! Just how someone would put a mirror in a tiny room to make it look bigger. 

Best time to navigate through the water system and the different eras connecting it, one must reach the Nahargarh Fort by 7 am in winters and 6 in summers. Behold a breathtaking sunrise and proceed to a captivating story of water, experienced on feet.

To make it simple to understand - there are three main components in the whole water system viz., the catchment area, the channels and the accessible storage tank. The catchment area is generally higher than the rest of the system simply because in the days when there were no electrical pumps available, the gravity was used to propel and move the water down the channels. The channels are very thoughtfully designed with no scope of any overflow resulting in any wastage of water. The thickness and height of walls, manual valves to control the direction of flow of water and apertures in the walls to reduce the force of water were the various means of controlling the flow of water. How and where the catchment areas were made, why were those spots chosen, why are the channels so different all along the path somewhere very wide and somewhere very narrow, and how were the direction controlling valves installed - get all of these answers during your walk with us. Just click here to write to us.

Our water walk is named thus because we follow the path of water otherwise calling it a history, geography, cultural, culinary and everything walk would be an understatement. Our storyteller shares the ancient food wisdom, the cultural significances of various practices followed in ancient times, the patterns and fabrics of garments worn then, the basics of how a fort is built, how are dams built and so on and so forth. The information he shares is so immense that we recommend you carry a small notepad and a pen!

As we proceed through the walk and inch towards our ending point which is the tank made famous by the Amir Khan starrer Rang De Basanti, we cross many temples and shrines, we meet a whole lot of different species of birds and also a few dogs who joyfully escort us out of their territories. The most interesting part of the walk is the storage tank which is flanked by a dam and ramparts on one side and a very smart water flow control system on the other. There are steps leading down the tank which are of ornamental purpose only as one can not reach the steps from the edges of the tank. Thoughtfully designed ramps and slopes guide the water to the storage tank, reining its speed and force along the way. The details of these systems are better seen than read about. For pictures you may go to our Instagram page.

The water walk is not long in terms of distance traveled but is definitely long in terms of information assimilation. Keep sipping water all along the way to keep yourself hydrated. Similar walks are conducted at Amer Fort too and a water walk at Ramgarh also is coming very soon. All of these and for many other off-beat travel experiences, write to us here.

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

The disappearing Temple : Shree Stambheshwar Mahadev

A road trip across Vibrant Gujarat is like a treasure hunt but with no clues given. Nonetheless, a very exciting treasure hunt where you keep stumbling upon wonders after wonders. Just take a map with you and ask a little bit around and go ahead explore the lovely land. Better still, ask us because we have “been there and done that” and can help save you precious time and effort. Click here to get in touch.

On one such road trip across Eastern Gujarat, our map led us to this bewildering wonder of a temple - Shree Stambheshwar Mahadev Mandir in Kavi Kamboi, Jambusar. We were literally on a treasure hunt of sorts and were visiting one hidden gem after another. Our minds were still busy processing all the information we received at Balasinor (read here about the Dinosaur fossil site) when we snaked our way through narrow village roads to a spectacle like none other. There stood in front of our eyes in the water of Bay of Cambay a beautiful wall-less orange and white temple that looked like a gazebo from afar. This was the legendary Shree Stambheshwar Mahadev Temple dedicated to lord Shiva. What we were told was that this temple gets totally submerged in the sea at high tide and emerges completely to the bottom at low tide. Of course then how could we not visit this marvel!

The Sight and the Site

There were quite a few visitors here with lots of cars parked around the single road that ends abruptly next to the open land around the temple. A short walkway leads one from this road to the temple. The walkway has a shed over it to protect the devotees from the harsh sea-sun and villagers from around here line the walkway with their wares and knick knacks to sell. Many “holy” symbols such as replicas of the temple, multi-metal rings, vastu-fengshuiesque tortoises, pyramids, evil eyes, charms and talismans, small Shiva Lingas in different stones for the home-temples, pictures of Gods and of course plastic baskets full of Pooja pre-requisites like Flowers, Betel, Incense sticks, Prasad etc are all sold here. Local berries of the season and fresh fruits also have made their way to the walkway!

Beyond the walkway where the temple stands, on the right is a slightly higher temple built for Shiva’s trusted Gate Guardian and “transporter” Nandi the bull. This temple remains unaffected by the tides. The main Shiva Linga stands in the sanctum sanctorum which is a couple of steps down from the main land. This probably is the simplest Shiva temple we have seen so far with nothing except the Shiva Linga and brick tiled floor with iron rails and a wrought iron gate. The gates are opened only when the tide is fully receded revealing the entire length of the Shiva linga as well as the entire floor. You may step down to pay your respects and perform your Parikrama. People from across faiths can be seen here, such is the following of this vanishing temple.

The legend

The legend behind this temple’s coming into existence is as interesting as the temple and the tide phenomenon itself. It is believed that Lord Kartikeya who also is Lord Shiva’s son was quite remorseful after killing Tarakasura - a demon as Tarakasura was a staunch devotee of Lord Shiva. During this remorseful and guilt ridden time he met Lord Vishnu to help him find a way to absolve himself of the sin he felt he committed. Lord Vishnu comforted Lord Kartikeya by first making him understand that the act he deems a sin was actually a service to the mankind as Tarakasura was known to torment the people and secondly by advising him to make a temple for Lord Shiva and by worshipping him everyday. Hence came the Shiva Linga at Stambheshwar that still stands to bewilder us humans.

What else to do

The locale is quite picturesque and photographers can delight in coming here with their gear. The Bay is a vast expanse of bluish grey haze with silhouettes of the settlements across the bay visible from this end. Seagulls and other marine feathered friends hover around diving sometimes to catch a stray fish and sometimes to catch the chips that people fling at them. Not a great idea though, but we did notice people feeding Farsaan to the seagulls and other birds. The entire coastline next to the temple buzzes with activity during low tides - there are pony rides, pony carts, tiny versions of ferris wheels and camel rides available here. A few ATVs also are available for the adventure seekers. Those who want a boat ride, contact the local fishermen whose boats are anchored along the coast. The Stambheshwar Mahadev Temple and its vicinity are a popular picnic spot for the people from around the area. We in fact even saw a few families enjoying their evening suppers on mats they brought along. At low tide, the entire coastline is an expansive play ground.

What to eat

The Prasad offered here is sweetened mawa which, believe us, tastes heavenly! The golden brown sweetened and thickened milk is a common Prasad at most of the Shiva temples. There are hand carts besides the road that leads to the temple offering street foods like Pav Bhaji, Bhel, Samosa, different types of farsaans and Kutchi Dabeli too. Thirst quenchers come in the form of Nimbu Sharbat (Lemonade), local cold drinks (if you have ever had a Kanche wala sharbat while growing up you would know) and the array of cold drinks that the MNCs brought to India. You may also choose to sink your teeth into a slurpy drippy Choco bar or Mango Dolly sold by the ice cream vendors.

The Vanishing Act

As I already mentioned that we reached the destination when the tide had already receded with only a foot of water remaining near the Shiva linga, we could really not witness the whole spectacular phenomenon of “now you see me” and “now you don’t”. Those of you who wish to see this entire cycle of submerging and emerging must come prepared to spend the day here. At high tide the top domes of the temple only can be seen, the pictures of the submerged temple here have been taken from internet while all the other pictures were clicked by us during our visit. 

Image source : Youtube

There are so many such wondrous places in Gujarat that a road trip of ten days also proved to be too short even for covering only one-fourth of the state. Then of course, that gives us a strong reason to again pack our bags and go exploring the other three quarters! Wonder, what marvels would we discover next!

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Hidden gems of Gujarat : Balasinor

Gujarat does not seize to surprise ever. Having explored the seas, the forests, the deserts, the barren expanses, the tribal life, the arts and crafts, the cuisine, nature’s gifts, mountains, rivers, markets, cultural varieties, monuments, excavated ancient cities : do we have anything left that is yet to be explored? What if I told you that you haven’t yet visited the Dinosaur world of Gujarat? Would you believe that there is a treasure trove of dinosaur fossils right inside the heart of Gujarat? And that till now only a tiny little bit of the site has been explored? And that the fossils excavated here are of Rajasauras and Rahiolisaurus as well as the longed necked Titanosaurs - the giants from the Dino world? A visit to the Balasinor Fossil Park will leave you completely spellbound. You have to see it to believe it, the dinosaur bones are all right there for everyone to see! And don’t be too surprised if we tell you that Balasinor is considered to be the 3rd largest dinosaur excavation site and 2nd largest hatchery in the world!!

Dinosaur fossil sites in India are found in the Narmada valley across Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat. Millions of years ago the Narmada nurtured what today is a dinosaur graveyard as geologists like to refer to it as. Thousands and thousands of dinosaurs lived, bred and thrived here. A natural calamity caused their sudden extinction. The theories are many and you need to have a great storyteller in a guide to truly appreciate your visit to Balasinor.

We travelled through the rural belt of central Gujarat crossing many small and big hamlets and settlements, finally taking a narrow snaking road through Balasinor and Rahioli to reach the Balasinor Dinosaur Fossil Park. The first sight that meets the eye is a museum complex on the main road itself where a dinosaur sculpture greets the visitors. The museum is under renovation and will soon have a collection of fossils and literature about the Rajasaurus narmadensis and Rahiolisaurus gujaratensis on display. It will also have information and pictures of the dinosaurs from India as well as the world. Once open it shall be one of its kind museum in the whole country. The museum displays have been done by Vama Communications, Ahmedabad and it is owned by the Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Limited.The locals, not too many around though as the site is in one faraway corner of the inhabited villages, did not know much about the fossil park. But you must not give up, as we experienced and drove upto the 200 m far fossil park. Another dino sculpture and some selfie boards to take selfies against greeted us here. While we were still lost and looking for boards to guide us, came a motorcycle rider clad in an off-white pyjama kurta. He introduced himself as a local guide for the Fossil Park. We jumped at the opportunity of being taken on a guided tour across the fossil park. After all, it is not every day that one comes for a rendezvous with the biggest form of life to ever inhabit the Earth! 

We walked together in the warm winter sun towards the green railing bound enclosures towards the interior of the park. Our guide had the details of how the site was discovered and told us that Dinosaur fossils were first discovered from Rahioli- Balasinor area by Mr.Dwivedi and Mr.Mohabey in 1983 during the course of systematic geological mapping. Mr.Mohabey also found the first dinosaur eggs from this area from a cement factory’s quarry. Later, Mr.Suresh Shrivastava, as team leader with Geological Survey of India was assigned the task to excavate the fossils. Soon, more palaeontologists and geologists descended on the land and confirmed that this probably is the largest reserve of dinosaur fossils in India. Work to unearth the fossils and carbon date them to know more about the discovery began in 1981 and was carried out in intervals till 1999. Geologists and palaeontologists from over fourteen countries partook in excavations and carbon dating and assembling the fossilised skeletons of dinosaurs found here.

Radio metric carbon dating revealed that the fossils were at least 65.5 million years old and that not just one or two but thousands of dinosaurs are buried here. The fossils are from the late Cretaceous age. The site probably was a nesting ground for dinos as many fossilised eggs huddled in nests are found here. The forest department, Govt. of Gujarat has carefully erected enclosures around the major rocks that contain visible fossils. How interesting it is to walk around these enclosures with a knowledgable guide who with a stick points out the features of the fossils. You can spot a femur, pelvic bones, a knee, cranial cavity, a spine and other unidentified bones.

How did the world of dinosaurs suddenly get buried and vanish? The theory behind this is that due to an impact of an asteroid hitting the earth, and the repercussions following the impact like climate changes, acid rains, water bodies getting contaminated etc and rising of the dust and heat choking the entire stretch of land, making it impossible for the flora and fauna to survive in such conditions.

Lots of fossils collected from this park are at display at the museums in Kolkata and Jaipur where the Geological Survey of India has its research centres. As many as approx 400 bones were discovered by opening seven pits which contained bones of both herbivores and carnivores. More bones were of the herbivores while few were of carnivores but the carnivore bones were more interesting as they found a brain case with jaw and many teeth and a horn and on the basis of these bones they were able to reconstruct a nearly complete skull of a dinosaur not found anywhere in the whole world except for india and in 2003 they announced to the world a new species of dinosaurs calling it the Rajasaurus narmadensis! it measured 30 feet in length (9 meters) height was 2.4 meters and weighed approx 4000kgs!! Yes, we are talking about the largest life form that ever walked this planet! They lived in the late cretaceous period of the Mesozoic era. As many as 75 bones from a single skeleton have been found here. The fossil park is 3rd largest dinosaur fossil park and second largest hatchery / nesting area of dinosaurs in the world! The fossil park is spread over 52 hectares of forest land and is guarded day and night. 

Balasinor Dinosaur Fossil Park is an ideal place to visit during your next vacations. Take young and old, everyone with you. Let the imaginations run wild, Mr.Steven Spielberg has already given us so much to amuse at! Such vast fossilised treasure lays buried here that you don’t have to go looking for it, it is all around you, right under your feet.

Get in touch with us here and we shall make arrangements for you to have an experienced and knowledgable guide to make your visit worthwhile plus a beautiful heritage home to stay at.