Friday, December 30, 2011

Fast Changing Scapes - Urbanization in India

A journey anywhere in India is an exciting proposition irrespective of the road conditions. Natural India is beautiful and at times mesmerizing.  The green fields dotted with forest clad hillocks and cute hamlets is what one expects with corresponding colors and changing countenance.

But to some one more discerning the rabid urbanization taking place foretells the damage. We drove from New Delhi to Nainital on a birding trip. The urbanization taking place is striking - it is everywhere. Concrete structures colonies, markets, eateries, factories, petrol pumps and whatnot. The resultant filth and squalor is clearly visible along the way.    

It is all through the way, a painful reminder of what happened to natural lands during the agricultural revolution. The industrial revolution is a second offensive on natural lands in India. Ill planned, rabid and reckless is how we can describe the concretization of our country. The structures are spreading around towns and cities like tentacles of Tarantula. 

Up on the hills the scenario is worse, the road to Sat Tal (Bhim Tal) is the worst case. Throughout  one finds hills dotted with colonies, houses and hotels.  The construction in the hills is taking over the  natural vegetation, forest clad hills, bush country, rivers and lakes. The natural beauty is a fast diminishing factor here. Large chunks of natural lands should be preserved in Uttranachal if the beauty has to remain. Devoid of any construction and inviolate, let me emphasize. 

I was saddened by the state of Sat Tal, one of the finest birding heaven, but how long it remains as such? We could feel the pinch as construction clears whatever is left of nature. Small niche habitats are being destroyed or cleared reducing species diversity. 

If India has to remain beautiful and attractive  a planned approach towards urbanization is due.   

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

New Delhi

The city of ancient and modern edifices enthralls one and all. The capital city is the landing point for most of the inbound tourists in India. Besides New Delhi attracts thousands every day in search of jobs and carreer  adding to the ever growing conglomeration which including the NCR is the second largest in the World.

The city of Kutub Minar and Red Fort is an exotic admixture of ancient and modern India. The swanky roads are unique which carry the millions on cars, autos, buses and two wheelers. The metro or subway has added to the comfort of commuters sick of bustling traffic and frequent slow down thanks to traffic jams. 

On the roads the World seems to be on the move as one goes past the grandeur of  modern structures, offices, malls, five star hotels and uptown shopping centers. The city seems to be full of energy and vigour and expresses fantastic synergy with modern metropolis all over the World.

Paradoxically within the old by lanes things come to a slow down one practically  experiences a stand still.  Here one enters into an ancient era - India of old - which was once pride of the Mughals. Chandi Chowk in Old Delhi represents the exotic stereo typed Indian Baazar but nevertheless struggles to compete with Lutyens Delhi and contemporary modern surroundings that loom overpoweringly all around. 

The congested gullies of Chandini Chowk harbor old shops that sell traditional goods - some products of ancient civilizations that are still in use. This is an ideal place to fulfill once wishlist of out of the place and antique items that are unique to the country. 

For the first time visitor the experience is bizarre, the juxtaposition of edifices dating back to ancient India and looming skyscrapers. A conglomeration of junta living in layers of  civilization - ancient by traditions and ultra modern. The dirt, filth and squalor of busy baazars, congested localities and rural dwellings engulfed by the great metropolitan surroundings invite a cultural shock.      

The ultra modern city belies expectation of stray cows, snake charmers, magicians and naked fakirs. The International Airport stuns first time visitors as a grand architectural marvel of modern India. The sights and smells of this city is best experienced in old part - devoid of sterilized aroma of the bustling metro. Smells of bustling milieu, aromatic spices, foods, choked sewer, cow dung coupled with auto exhaust engulf the nostrils to the brim. This is India as it lives bereft of modernity.     

The cultural diversity is an amazing product of history of invasions and domination, repression and loot. Of many civilizations and dynasties that have stamped a deep rooted impressions on the cities landscape and its junta.  The pot potpourri is a result of thousand years of tortured history of wars and constant influx of invaders from Mughals to British. In contemporary India migrants have given a new twists to Delhi's flavors and astounding colors.  

The roadside eateries and Punjabi Dhabas are unique in the World besides exotic foreign restaurants and desi curry joints - all regional foodstuff is available here. For the connoisseurs of gastronomic delights the capital city is one stop gateway to Indian Foods. Eat what you want but ask first if you are a stranger to the city.

The major attractions are Red Fort, Kutub Minar, Lodhi Garden, Jantar Mantar,Laximi Narain Temple, India Gate, Parliament Building, Rastrapati Bhavan, ISKON Temple, Bahai Lotus Temple, Humayun's Tomb, Purana Kila, Birla Mandir, Akshardham and Jama Masjid. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Marble Rocks - A Visit

The road is pockmarked with potholes and driving is very difficult all the way through. An extensive network of roads have been created in Jabalpur increasing the burden of tax payers. But nevertheless it has made traveling from one place to another easier and less time consuming.  (Minus the holes).  

The road intersects a wide section of the city through greener areas, and except for the holes, driving is pleasant.  Soon we are past the scenic MPEB HQ and reach the lake which is man made and ill kept. One of the best retreat the lake is full of waste matter and plastic on the shores. The residents of the nearby colony throw their litter here. It is a good place to watch for migratory ducks like gargeny teals which arrive from Siberia.

After a cursory glance we proceed further towards the Bargi Colony and from here we take a turn towards Duandhar Falls one more cross road and in few minutes we are at the Fall. After visiting the place from childhood I have found the transformation to be horrific. The nature has been completely destroyed by mining and roads.The surroundings have been completely ravaged here as in the gorge by miners, and wood loggers.

Before this place was a pristine spectacle with forested hills and a zig zag gully between the rocks that lead to the falls. The Narmada River dips here into a depression about 40 feet creating a dazzling spectacle that is still mesmerizing. The tons of water fall on rocks and rebound as fine spray creating curtains of mist hence the name.(Dhuan = Smoke - Dhar = Fall)

A rope way crosses the river offering a spectacular overview of the fall and the gorge. From here river flows through the constricted gorge giving rise to a panoramic splendor that is Marble Rocks. The flow at the beginning of the gorge is turbulent making a boat ride impossible.

I walk up the steps on to a hill facing the falls in order to sight some birds. There are few of them so I enjoy the sight of the spectacle gushing down with great force. An Egyptian vulture soars overhead besides a bunch of house swifts that nest in the cliffs.

Ignorant of the pleasant  weather and the beautiful sky overhead, I see from my vantage point a throng of tourists gaping at the natural wonder, few are busy clicking their cameras while the rest are at the food shacks that sell mineral water, cold drinks and aloo bundas. Besides the sightseers, the place is always frequented by beggars, alm seeking sadhus and cameramen. A road leads straight to confines of the falls for those too lazy to walk from the car park.

We walk through myriads of straw thatched shacks which sell artifacts made of marble and stones. These are exquisitely carved by local craftsmen. These fragile statues and artifacts find many buyers especially tourists from other states. The sellers pursue you, coaxing you to buy something, the invitation is loud and jarring. So do the food wallahs, the best I could consume was sugar cane juice while my guests hogged on steaming hot samosas and cold drink. 

We drive past the MPT Complex and the temple complex (Chousath Jogini) to reach the parking. Chuastah Jogini is a stone walled circular courtyard enclosing ancient idols of 64 consort of Godess Durga. A lone Shiva temple is constructed in the midst. the idols have been disfigured by Mogul invaders. 

From the car parking a short walk takes you to the beginning of the steps that lead to the river for boating.  All around the story is repeated - shack selling artifacts made of soft and hard marble and the accompanying cacophony. The jetty is full of stalls selling snacks and refreshments. From the rows of parked row boats we select one after some bargaining.

The guide make the ride interesting as he describes unfolding panorama and vivid shapes on the marble cliffs with wide melange of colors. The boat moves ahead painfully slow against the white waters. I realize the spectacle of rocks is enchanting but thanks to excess water from the Bargi Dam the ledge all around is immersed in water eliminating the habitat of some water birds, snakes and an odd crocodile that we used too sight before the Dam was built. The boat ride than was serene amongst the magic of the green surroundings. Time used to stand still as we moved from one rock formation to another equally beautiful one.   

Taking a boat ride has moved on to become nerve rattling adventure from serene and even dangerous. The boat turns back from mid way, as the flow ahead is very dangerous. Nevertheless the ride is still enchanting in spite of  quick about turn.  

Both the Dhuandhar Falls and Marble Rocks are a must visit for those staying or passing through Jabalpur. There are few hotels at Beraghat for accommodation, the most popular being MPTDC hotel. The accommodation is one of the most scenic among Jabalpur hotels since it overlooks the gorge and its verdant greenery. 

The destination is about 20 km from Jabalpur Town in Madhya Pradesh. The best way to reach is to hire a taxi provided by a travel agent. There are many car rental services in Jabalpur for transportation of your own. The luxury cars can be used to reach Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Pench or Pachmarhi as most tourists do.         
Best season is winters and one can visit the destination right upto the start of the rain or till the Bargi Dam Over flows usually by July. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Road to Nagpur

The journey was in fact much extended right up to Pune. The Jabalpur beginning was as troublesome as  the ending at Nagpur. The journey begins in a rickety old bus paradoxically called luxury bus.

"Which Bus to Nagpur?"  

"Check Your Ticket!"

The bus has a characteristic scarred exterior with peals of paint with lost bindings. The interior does not look inviting either. Oh! Well one more weather beaten body inside.    

I twist and turn in order to avoid the ladder that leads to the sleeper bed on top. Eventually I manage to get into my seat, pull the lever and stretch myself maximum. The sun hits my face directly causing discomfort. The bus is warm and humid from inside, though it is October, but the parking is right under the sun. 

I wait in expectation for the bus to begin its journey onwards. The driver finally alights and begins chatting with the cleaner. The conductor is leaning out from the exit door. "Nagpur! Nagpur! Chalo Nagpur!

This is supposed to be a luxury bus, and only those with reserved tickets are allowed to embark. Who cares? "Nagpur" Nagpur!" 

Stuffed to the brim the contraption eventually moves forward. Amidst that sea of humanity, I try to close my eyes and relax for the seven hours tormenting journey onwards. The seat is not ergonomically designed, well  for a two hundred Rs fare one should not expect too much Luxuryyyyyyyyy. 

Throughout the journey I squirm like an acrobat to offer a comforting angle to my aching back and limbs. This does not work out much and discomfort continues. The bus traverses through picturesque surroundings of what where once dense forests. 

Its nothing new, the bad road condition, but the jerks break your bones and torment your muscles no end. You have to be careful so that you do not land on your neighbor. I peak from my window and see no sane piece of tar, only pot holes ravaged continuously by marauding wheels of buses and trucks. With each pounding the hole becomes larger and provides more space for the wheels. There are large stretches of road that contain nothing but loose sand and pebbles. There is no sign of any repair work throughout the National Highway. It is evident that proper ratio of material has not been used. The road is in utter state of neglect. Shameless! 

The extreme cataclysmic movement does not bother those in lofty seat as much, most of them are lulled by the rhythmic jerks that pass through the cross section like seismic waves. The unfortunate seat less travelers without a reserve ticket are engaged in constant maneuver to balance their bodies. And to save themselves from surrounding metal objects. Their journey is short hence they stand through. Years of discomforting travel has taught them how to hold one self  against life threatening thuds as the wheel falls into the pothole.   

In spite of the badly scarred road the driver pushes the accelerator to get the maximum thrust. The heat worsens as the sun rises and at each stop it is "Nagpur" "Chalo Nagpur". At each stop one lot disembarks  another alights to maintain the equilibrium. The inside smells of sweat, bad breath, oily snacks and garlic chutney all around. In India people eat throughout the journey, perhaps an instant source of energy that makes the body fight the hardship of travel better.            

The bus passes through small isolated hamlets that remain standstill, frozen back in time, centuries past, unconcerned with the changing pace of urbanity. The arid fields, rickety cows and goats are means of survival nothing exists beyond, most certainly the urban surroundings and its inhabitants. A lot which has discovered alien life and learned to ignore. The small towns on the way are engaged in a battle of survival between different eras, a conglomeration of rustic and modern structures. Noisy Baazars, loud blaring speakers and constant rant of the vendors characterize Indian townships. Stray cows, dogs and pigs are ubiquitous commensal  of man.   

The largest town half way through is Seoni made famous by Rudyard Kipling and his Jungle Book. Mowgli's Home, Pench National Park resides in the confines of Seoni and Chindware District close to the town.

The bus barely manages to drag itself uphill and the sharp turns make the ride more bumpy and troublesome.

The discomfort is compensated by the amazing scape of this National Park. The entrance to Pench is at Khawasa about 50 km from Seoni Township. At Khawasa the bus crosses over from MP to Maharashtra after a brief stop for tea, snacks, pan/bidi/cigarette and of course passenger exchange. "Nagpur" Nagpur!"    

We The People 

Roads in Maharashtra are better but not on this stretch, the journey lasts for another four hours exchange stops included. The passengers in seat wait eagerly for Nagpur to arrive. As decent law abiding citizens none has taken note of the road condition, a motley lot that represents all of us. A chalta hai lot that is voiceless and suffers in silence. The politician contractor nexus survives because of our silence since ages.

Perhaps the lot could teach those trying to turn turtles against the corrupt system. How not to confront? Chalta Hai Yaar hum bhi to khateein hain many would say.         

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Travel Advisory - India

Time to time many countries publish travel advisory or warnings for India. This is in keeping with safety of their country men traveling in this country. But care should be taken so as not to create a panic or feeling of doom. The risk factors should be clearly defined and places mentioned. The wrong perception of Incredible India should not be forwarded.

Those who are unaware of this country  and its magical destinations are most susceptible to panic. Best advise is to consult your countrymen who have traveled to India often. They can clear your doubts and apprehensions.  

India is a very large country and at any given moment situation differs between its various states and holiday destinations. That untoward incidence happen sometimes, but then there are million or more or less people staying there carrying on with their daily lives. Hence though danger is there of political unrest, riots, terrorist acts, strikes etc this does not affect visitors much until unless they are very unfortunate. The incidence are very sporadic and rare at any given place.          

Most of the susceptible sightseeing destinations are well protected hence the risk is diluted. Travel risk in India - largely a very peaceful and tolerant country - perhaps equals that of any other country. Anyway it is wise to heed the warnings and avoid risk fraught places as mentioned. This should not certainly make people avoid the wonderful destinations in the country.     

Mischief mongers sometimes carry out senseless acts, and most of the victims are Indians carrying on their day to day life. The risk is higher in major towns especially in crowded localities and public places. Health hazard, political disturbances, riots, terrorism, strikes, disturbing weather changes are localized and the news services are quite prompt to alert you of any danger or discomfort. Always keep in touch with your consulate or embassy.       

Hence do not press the panic button. Think wisely and travel safe. But enjoy the colorful and diverse magnificence this country offers. Bon Voyage & Happy Holidays.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Festival Time: Colors & Sparkling Lights

Hinduism is one of the most colorful religion, liberal, gregarious and open. The practice entwines itself with spirituality in ritualistic manner that unifies mind and body for inner peace. The exemplary myths are what makes and ideology peaceful an benevolent. The rites and rituals may appear to be indigestible to many but they are actually personification of soul and inner self. The apparently unscientific and irrational envelopes the truth and teachings of a civilization thousands of years old. Hidden deep with the spiral maze of invisible quagmire coexist the expression of science and spiritual quest.

The great events and auspicious happenings are celebrated as festivals. The celebrations are celebration of life and the World around us. The celebration of belief in God and his limitless creation. The festival of lights or Diwali is a follow up of series of events some related to Holy Ramayana.    

Navratri/Durgautsav: Dance & Music: This is the beginning of the harvest season whence Goddess  Durga is invoked as thanksgiving. Durga is representation of Shakti (Cosmic Power & Strength) as consort of Lord Shiva is blessed with constructive and potent destructive power. Navratri is celebration of her victory over Mahisasur the demon.  A nine day long ritualistic prayer sessions follow up with lot of fun and gaiety in brightly decorated and illuminated pandals or temporary fabricated structures. This is also the time for culture to manifest itself in traditional dance forms like Garba of Gujarat State. Commercial life except shopping comes to a stop in some states especially Bengal where Durga Puja is celebrated with religious fervor.  Finally the idols of Durga are immersed in the rivers and large water bodies with offerings of prayers.

Dusshera/Vijayadashmi: End of The Battle: It is celebrated for the victory of truth over evil.  This is the day whence Lord Ram killed Ravana the personification of evil. Ram is the seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu the preserver in holy trinity. The 10th day is marked as Dusshera whence Ravana was killed by Ram along with his ten heads he!he!. The ten heads are nothing but representative of destructive and evil might of Ravana the King of Lanka. Effigy of the devil king is set to fire for ultimate demise and to signify victory of good over evil.

This event is celebrated with full gusto in many places in India especially in the erstwhile kingdom of Mysore. The palace is the center of attraction decorated with dazzling lights for full 10 days. The royals perform the ritualistic prayers at Chamunda Devi Temple. The festivities galore with the beginning of the precession of Goddess Chamundeswari on elephant back in the streets. The spectacle of singing, dancing and ritualistic fervor is amazing and attracts thousands of tourists to Mysore. The procession is a conglomeration of local audience, tourists, dance groups, live bands, tableaux, decorated elephants, camels and horses.              

Diwali: Lord Returns to Ayodhya: Ram, Wife Sita & Brother Laxman return to Ayodhya from fourteen years of exile after victory over Sita's abductor  Ravana. The return is celebrated as Diwali the festival of light. Illumination of structures by traditional clay lamps or diyas and modern lightening takes place during Diwali. Bursting fire crackers are a way of celebration that can be used for days especially on the Diwali Night.       

The rows and rows of houses and commercial complexes are illuminated with dazzling lights. The night is lit up in urban centers with diyas and modern methods.After the evening prayers the scene erupts and crackers and rockets take to the sky. It is an event of social gathering,  fooding, and night long of fire crackers till exhaustion takes place.

Travel in India during the festival season is a spectacle of huge unmanageable rush. All travel services are fully booked hence travelers to India and holiday makers should book transportation and accommodations in advance. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Keep your Identity Proof - India travel

India is a vast country with destinations spread far and wide. It is most likely that you will travel long distances whence going from one destination to another. The journey may be by rail, by air or road. Sometimes you have to use all mode of transport to reach your destination. 

Most of the distance covered may be overnight journeys if traveling by rail and road. While on travel you need to take care of your essentials, food, medicine, drinking water and interim stays. The weather may be different cold or hot so necessary garments are required. Banking facilities are not available at small places in the interiors so requisite amount of cash in bag is a must. While visiting ancient monuments or other places of tourism guide services may be required. Remember to check the identity of the guide and take reference from the hotel your are putting up at.  

Air travel is costlier in India and so are private taxis. The best way to move from one place to another is by train which is the cheapest mode of  transportation. You can book e-ticket online now but while presenting your ticket you need to show your original identity to the ticket collector. 

Identity proof is required even while boarding a plane. It will be required while booking hotels in India and sometimes at National Parks  and trade fairs etc.  For  foreign travelers passport works fine as an identity proof for Indian Nationals there are many options. Most popular form of identity proof is the driving license followed by the pan card issued by the Income Tax Department of India. Another good proof is the UID Card also known as the Aadhar Card issued by UIDAI. Bills with photograph and address may also work but sometimes the former ones are asked for. 

For foreign travelers passport details are compulsorily submitted to the nearest police station. This formality can be submitted on a form in possession of the hotel you stay at.  This information may be submitted at many major destinations in India. the information may also be required whence visiting major National Parks and places of archeological importance.            

Monday, October 3, 2011

Winters in India

Winters in India can take many people with surprise. This does not happen only in the case of inbound foreign travelers but to Indians as well. One of my acquaintance traveling to Madhya Pradesh without any warm clothing, shivered throughout his journey from Nagpur to Jabalpur.He made it alive.

We were caught unawares plenty of time in higher reaches of Nainital by heavy snow.  It can snow at Sat Tal and Pangot anytime as late as April.  Hence in all my birding expeditions I keep plenty of warm clothes.  These are required in summers as well although thinly as it could be very chilly during the predawn in many places in India.

The cold begins in India from October onwards and keeps to North and Central India but it can surprise people even in Mumbai which was much colder last year than it used to be. Warm cloth suppliers did brisk business at that time.

The Himalayan Reaches receive continuous snow and cold blasts of wind. Kashmir is very cold during winters and whence blasts of cold wind strike Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh shiver. Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh experience record breaking cold though the former two do not experience snowfall. Similarly it does not snow in MP and Uttar Pradesh but the shivering cold persists till January.   

Whence traveling in India be prepared with lots of warm clothing including hand gloves and head gear. Do not take chances there is very little conditioning in public places including restaurants.  The cold waivers between less cold and more cold but it remains right till January and sometime stretches till February in extreme form.  There are very good quality warm garments being sold in areas with cold hence do not hesitate to buy them if you do not have. In extreme cold warm inner are a must, buy the branded ones they are generally protective against extremes.

Hot tea is like manna during winters and it is safe as well. Keep sipping keep some brandy it helps if badly struck. The common sense advice is to restrict travel to day time nights can be Freeeeeeeeeeeeeezing! Burr!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Lesser Known Places in MP - Patalkot

Hidden from the World deep into the depth of mother Earth Patalkot is a unique land. One densely forested there has taken place lot of denudation. Anyway the places is enchanting as I have come to understand from reader reviews. People who have been to Patalkot speak a lot about it being a strange esoteric place the excels as a holiday destination.

The destination is about 56 km from Chindwara near Tamia Ghat on the way to Pachmarhi Hill Retreat. The depression is about  1200 feet deep from an average height of Tami which is 2750 to 3250. The horseshoe shaped valley is reachable by the cris cross of roads leading to the pit.   The valley has an area of around 79 sq km and is inhabited with tribal living in small hamlets.     

The Pachnmarhi Biosphere Reserve encompass Patalkot and its lesser known inhabitants.  The area is picturesque and worth spending time there. It is an exciting opportunity to learn about the endemic tribes living below he depth of the Earth. The Gond and Bharia tribal culture, their rites and rituals are always an exciting find. Another interesting element is the herbal medicine used by the inhabitants. The area is rich in biodiversity and varying depths and moist sun less quarters encourage growth of herbs and shrubs with medicinal properties. Micro flora like lichens, algae, fungi and moss grow in wild abundance.      

Patalkot is about 78 km from Chindawara town on the way to Parasia 28 km. Continue to Tamia about 30 km whence you reach Bijouri village before Tamia take a right turn and continue driving for about 16 km till you reach Patalkot. 

The journey takes 2 1/2 hrs fro Chindawara where the accommodation hotels are in good numbers. Your night halt will be in this town hence make an early start and come back early evening.

Pachmarhi Hill Retreat  is an interesting destination and a wildlife sanctuary.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Friday, September 2, 2011

Madan Mahal - Out Post Enchanting

It is a small fort situated in one of the highest hills (500 meters) in Jabalpur City. The fort is more of an outpost strategically placed in order to accord view of the Garha Kingdom of the Gond Dynasty. Today it stands as a silent sentinel over the city. Stripped out of its ancient glory it is a mute testimony of the valiant tribal history of Raj Gonds. The Gonds who built the fort somewhere in 10th AD where often called Rajput Gonds with lineage mixing with the Royals of Rajasthan.

The ancient temple of Godess Sharda Devi is perhaps as old. Both the temple and fort complex are built of granite the constituent of the hill. The temple is now cemented and the ancient feel is missing. The fort is placed on top of a huge boulder and contains two chambers one meant for the rulers. It is said that a tunnel lead to the large bath in the front such that the Rani could reach it  unseen.

The structure was also the pleasure palace of Madan Singh 10th Gond King. The fortress surprises you with its size, but nevertheless it was fighting fit to repel many invaders through its life time. Not at all magnificent as the Red Fort at New Delhi it brought to heels invaders from there.  

The complex is near intact including the stables but the gold is missing. There where supposed to be two gold bricks in hidden somewhere in the complex a portion that is under the shadow of the sun. Thousands have searched for the pot of treasure but none could find it yet.  

The outpost and numerous Hindu temples built by the Gonds exhibit the craftsmanship of the people of the past. But what intrigues most besides the amazing craftsmanship and masonry are the tunnels that formed an interconnected network of escape routes. However no traces have been found of the incredible feat. It is a myth or fact nobody knows.   

The spectacular view of Jabalpur City is what astounds the visitors most. The verdant hill ranges and quaint townships is suggestive of how spread out this town is. It is by all means a green city with much less pollution and congested the least The city is placed inside the cauldron of forested hill ranges perhaps frail end of the Satpuras.      

A series of steps lead to this fortress, on the way is a small reservoir built for the thirty soldiers. The structure looms large as you near the final steps and catches your eye in awe. The Gond kingdom was situated at Garha near by. 

The last ruler Rani Durgavati queen of Dalpat Shah died fighting the Mughal Asaf Khan in an unequal battle at Narrai near Jabalpur. As defeat became imminent she sacrificed her life, her son Vir Narayan also died in the battle of Narrai. Her martyrdom is celebrated in India on June 24th. 

With the death of Rani Durgavati the kingom sadly fell to the mughals followed by the Marathas and eventually the British.  

The monument is much visited by tourists and business travelers to Jabalpur. It is near to the station and can be approached using a taxi service. The city is important as trading center, education center, cantt and defense factories. It is well connected by rail with all major towns and with New Delhi and Mumbai by air. Jabalpur is the best access point for MP State Tourism in Madhya Pradesh in Central India. Wildlife Heavens    Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Satpura, Pench National Parks are visited from this city. Pachmarhi and Amarkantak hill retreats are close to JBP.  

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Romancing the rains

For me it is nostalgia that dooms over as rains come. The pitter patter of drops falling on dead leaves, old tin roofs, window panes and that which accompanied by loud raucous croaking of mating amphibians creates a unique symphony. This song and dance recital of rain drops may have inspired many a composers in the World.

The overflowing nullahs bring fish, frogs, water snakes, crabs and turtles to your doorstep. They fall into the clogged drains and eventually perish during the dry spell. The nesting birds celebrate as newborns emerge. This is a period of plenty and the earthly creatures eagerly await for procreation to take place every year. The inundated fields augur hope for a bountiful paddy crops for teeming hungry millions in Asia.

Unfortunately this cannot be experienced in a concrete jungle. Only those fortunate enough to live in natural surroundings  are regaled by this celestial orchestra. Few bother about the sights and smell of the rain on Earth. For Indira's rampage at time volatile and frightening has to be borne as a necessity with a snigger and discomfort. The ever persisting cold, humidity and dark skies sometimes depressing for days is all that a monsoon is.   

The rain falls on eagerly awaiting dry and thirsty earth. The aroma of Earth exudes from the depths of its impregnable belly - the perfumers in India call it Itr a Gil. For nature lovers the musky perfume augurs fresh vigor and vitality. The carpets of green and verdant ranges are an enchanting sight for miles over - slush and potholes notwithstanding.     

Monsoon is a period of birth and regeneration the nourishing drops fetch new life and repopulate the land. It cleanses the muck and human waste - shit - a year long stagnation a much needed succor. The life giving rains cannot be experienced in stifling  hub of urban settlements. Take a monsoon holiday in hills or go for a rain drive and enjoy Indira's celestial bounty.   

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Kerala Wildlife

A strip of land on the leeward side of the Western Ghats the Indian state of Kerala abounds in enchanting things. The altitude variations and diverse geographical features makes this land heaven for wildlife.  The forest types are true Tropical evergreen, semi evergreen and deciduous. 

The state contains little less than 10,000 sq. km of forest teeming with endemic, rare and common animals and birds. The wilderness is protected in numerous conservation centers notified as wildlife sanctuary, National Park and Tiger Reserve.

The popular tiger reserves are Periyar and Eravikulam National Park besides Nilgiri Biospheres Reserve is a biodiversity hub of International significance. The major fauna are the Bengal Tiger, Elephant, Chital, Sambar, Bison, Leopard. Nilgiri tahr, Grizzled Giant Squirrel, Lion Tailed Macaque, Nilgiri Langur, Sloth Bear, Swamp Lynx, Flying Squirrel, Indian Muntjac, Jackal and Jungle Cat. Some less known animals are Stripe-necked Mongoose, Bonnet Macaque, Rusty Spotted Cat, Nilgiri Marten, Dusky Striped Squirrel, Small Clawed Otter, Briwn Mongoose, gray Slender Loris and Ruddy Mongoose.

Kerala is also home for King Cobra the biggest venomous snake in the World.  The number of reptilian species is very impressive and a treat to watch.The largest population of marsh crocodiles in the state survive in Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary. The protected areas are best for wildlife safaris in the state. The travelers should gather prior information before visiting the forests of the Southern state. 

Periyar or Thekkady is the most popular destination in the state. It is a large tiger reserve with many interesting animals species and birds. 

Kerala is India's top tourist destination famous for backwater tours and beach resorts as well. The are many package tours available to discover the state and its wildlife. There are many tourism destinations for safaris, beach holidays and backwater houseboat stays.  

The best season for visiting the state is from August to March. The state offers unique experience to the visitors hence other timing may also be preferred. The timing would depend upon what you wish to see and experience.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Pune: Larger than life

I first visited Pune many years back on business trip. The city had characteristics of a peaceful serene rustic human habitation enveloped by greenery of Shayadhari Hills. Unspoilt by rabid urbanization the old time shopping areas, the green patches augured a characteristic aura of  romance of  India of Old. The impressive structures, relics of British Raj stood out authoritatively as they did during the rule challenging the very concept of free India.  The large shops built during the Raj selling medicine and liquor are still etched in my memory lane. They stood out from the modern contraptions that the city has so eagerly embraced.  

Pune of old can be envisaged as a quaint town with green hills and a redolent population of endemic dwellers. No more it is a bustling metropolitan with ever increasing population. The transmigration of populations from all over the country has taken the city by surprise. The individual identities have drowned in the sea of humanity.

One visit to this bustling town assures you that Poona has transformed to Pune. It is Maharashtra's second largest metropolitan after Mumbai. The city is an IT Hub and large scale  industrialization has taken place. The city has presence of large number of automobile industry - vehicle manufacturers and ancillaries. The Sahyadhari surrounds are still green clean and neat with well defined road network - the highways. The city is a mad cacophony of hotels, shops, garages, pan shops, roadside vendors and skyscrapers.  Even amidst chaos and consternation the city exhibits semblance of sanity and decency. You always manage to get past the traffic.    

The local populace of old and migrants have inculcated the essence of old city and the developed one. Nevertheless Pune is bursting at its seams as more and more people come and settle here. The education infrastructure invites a large number of students every year which constitutes the floating population. 

There are many green areas in the metro that enchant the visitors. The modern upcoming infrastructure constitutes of malls, restaurants and shops. The roadside food is delicious with typical Marathi cuisine steaming hot vada paws, spicy pav bhaji and misal paw. The posh restaurants offer culinary delights from all over the state and foreign countries. One has to pay through the nose at upscale restaurant and the bars in this city but it is worth the food.   

It is no more a holiday destination but a business and education center. If you have taken care of your travel and accommodation than you will love your stay here.     

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Responsible Travel & Tourism

Travel is going to grow, grow and grow. With quantum growth responsibility has to creep in. Certain tourism destinations are sensitive and fragile. As the day dawns upon us we have realized the importance of responsible tourism. Sustainable use of natural resources, profit sharing with locals by the way of employment, recycling substances are all in the package.

The tourism industry has to play a major role, be it hospitality or travel services. The onus is greater in ecotourism zones - one fine example is Kanha National Park.  The demand for super luxurious accommodation and amenities may augur practices contrary to responsible tourism principles. The ingress of urbanity is also one of the damaging factors. All things modern puts lot of stress on the ecosystem, invites rush of people that puts stress on the habitat and natural resources. .

Controlled tourism is a must...Kanha cannot become like the Hill Retreats in India most of which have been ravaged by rampant construction. The construction without purpose or service for personal accommodation and pleasure should not be encouraged else damage to forests and natural lands will take place.  Resorts that are based on RT and  implement recycling activities, alternative energy usage that are eco friendly are most welcome.

Be Good

The tourist behavior in sensitive zones is controlled by rules and regulation. Kanha is a fine example of how tourism has been maintained to optimum level without damage to the habitat and its denizens.

The visitors should themselves comply with rules and regulations set in. These are not "free for all" holiday destinations. A wildlife safari is to experience the complex web of life on Earth and its equally complex but important processes. A safari is a learning process wherein we come to understand the importance of environment and its conservation.

Eco Resorts

The eco resorts make maximum use of naturally available raw materials, install bio gas, use solar panels etc. These are some of the indicator of responsible behavior. Local tribes and communities are the sentinels of tiger reserves in India many have been displaced to make way for other life forms.

Empowerment of Local Communities

Employing and engaging local tribal in all productive activities is encouraging. It is compensation for displacement, movement restriction and limitation on use of minor forest produce, and in some circumstances loss of land etc.

Empowerment of locals is a must it can be done by the way of training and employment. Assistance to local institutions especially medical centers and school from the money earned should be encouraged by the leaders of the industry.

Inculcating sound principles of responsible tourism will augur growth and development the green way. We have seen the ravages of uncontrolled mining, responsible behavior would prevent excessive dependence on fossil fuels and mining products.

Alternative employment and skill development will wean away locals from poverty and destructive activities. The hospitality businesses should partake and assist in creating innovative alternatives which are ecofriendly.  

It is a win, win, situation for nature and human society along with all life forms. Let us change our ways.        

Friday, August 5, 2011

Naini Tal a vanishing Garden of Delight

Uttarakhand a la Uttaranchal.

The plains give into the rising mountains. From a distance the mountains look indomitable, inaccessible and over powering. As you climb up from Kath Gudaam in between the folds of the mountain the paradise unfolds. The steep rising curves can be frightening for those not used to hills in India. The cool refreshing aroma of the hills overtakes fear and a holiday mood sets in. We did see an elusive leopard on the way uphill somewhere before Bhim Tal. The tigers are rare but for some seasonal migrants from Corbett and surrounding region.      

I have visited Sat Tal and Bhim Tal many times on birding tours. These are must visit places since the urbanity is creeping much slowly. Sadly the whole of Naini Tal is a dying ecosystem thanks to uncontrolled construction. People are displacing natural lands, not only here but all over the country. The investor and builder lobby is unstoppable and benefit from inherent corruption in the system. 

But thankfully there are some places left preserved, even now. Birding does not take place only on forested regions of this district. Birding spots line Kainchi are littered with polythene waste and degraded. Destruction of natural lands is evident near all human settlements in India. The avian species are forced to inhabit these places because the habitat suits them. But for how long?      

Pangot though not colonized extensively  has been under the scourge of villages and much of the areas has been denuded. Sat Tal and Pangot are excellent for birding and the former is better holiday destination than Nainital township which is a bazaar bursting at its seam. I would  never suggest a holiday in the over crowded township. 

The amazing spectacle of Snow White Himalayan Ranges are visible from Sat Tal and Pangot the best. Nainital Valley can be best seen from the heights of Pangot which is over 2000 MSL. 

The road to Corbett passes through the Bajun Valley another good birding spot. You drive down hill  through the Corbett country via Choti Haldwani  & Kaladhungi all these places have retained the forest canopy to some extant. Jim Corbett has popularized these places in his memoirs & stories of man eating tigers which he hunted skill fully. Besides the core zone places like Lal Dhang, Sita Vani near Rampur, Mohaan and Koshi River Beach are excellent for birding outside the preserve. Sadly human ingress is quite noticeable in many areas - one of the reason for elephant attacks and man eating by tigers.  

Corbett National Park is a true tiger country and a picturesque wildlife conservancy. The preserve is an excellent bird destination as well. More than 500 hundred avian species inhabit this enchanting tiger reserve seasonally. Hence the park attracts birders as late as April when the heat begins to rise. These Himalayan Foothills referred as Terai contain Bhabar tracts, Sal forests along with mixed canopy and large stretches of grasslands now seen only inside the park. At greater height the tree line changes to Oak, Birch, Rhododendron and Pine. Moss laden barks of trees attract many birds especially woodpeckers. 

The stretch of grassland at Dhikala Meadow inside core zone of the park, quaint glens and high rise mountains are enchanting and so are the Ramganga River sides.

Lot of natural places in the foothills are loosing ground to industrialization, agriculture, rampant construction and increasing humanity. How long this wonder land remains is anybody's guess. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Romantic Indian Summer & Monsoon

The vagaries of weather & climate can never be experienced like you would do in India. With every change of season the country transforms itself - an effort to be in harmony with things. It is very difficult to describe playful Indian Summer as romantic because it is a feel. And romance is in the eye of the beholder. The vivid display of diminishing colors and drastically changing landscape are no less appealing as spring time fecundity.

The cool salubrious mornings followed by the scorching noons and dissenting nights offer admixture of relief and discomfort sometimes at extremes. The effect of the fall and erstwhile spring form cryptic display of the living and the dead. Even in the dry hot summer, the country functions ceaselessly, a mass of humanity well acclimatized with extremes of ever changing seasons. Bronze bodies in glistening summer. Paradoxically the people travel more in the heat of the summer. The torturous travel  is absorbed by high expectation of visiting friends and relatives. For the fortunate it is the cool confines of Hill Retreats & Himalayan Ranges. 

The dry hot summers are followed by pre-monsoon showers, a hide and seek game of rising and falling humidity.  The blast of showers after much expectations augur new life everywhere. The monsoon blasts are an orgasmic relief from constant bouts of  heat. The monsoon nurtures India. Even after remarkable technical progress, the country still depends upon the heavenly rains. A deficient monsoon spells disastrous for the Nation that depends upon every drop of precious flood.        

Friday, July 15, 2011

Khajuraho Temples: Wonders in stone

In remote hidden region of Central India a discovery was made. The temples strangest of all had erotic carvings. The depiction of erotica was by all means blatant including deriving carnal pleasure with animals.

But nevertheless these were not any object of pornographic exhibits. With passage of time they were realized as precious heritage as a treatise on human sexuality. Perhaps the inspiration came from Kamasutra. Such carnal depictions though appear to be bizarre since they were in scripted on wall of holy structures had a purpose. They were the initiation grounds for growing princes and the children of the nobles.

The temples were built by the Chandels in circa 10 and 11 AD; stone has been extensively used along with other masonry apparatus. The inner walls of sanctum sanctorum remain empty of these depictions which are present on the outer walls only. Situated in desolate surroundings of unknown habitation the temples were hidden from the outside world for centuries. The complex was rediscovered by a British army officer Captain T.S. Burt during the Raj in 1838.

The present day Chhattarpur District of Madhya Pradesh the Central Indian State receives lots of visitors who descend in hordes to see these magnificent structures. The Khajuraho Temples are situated in this district and are barley forty five km from Panna National Park and Ken Gharial Sanctuary.

During the passage of time many structures came down as ruins due to neglect and apathy. There were presumed to be around eighty temples of which twenty five remain today. The temple complex has been declared as UNESCO World Heritage Site for the priceless structures and Indo-Aryan Architecture marvel.

The temple complex or groups as mainly:

Western Group of Temples

Eastern Group of Temples

Southern Group of Temples

Some of the popular temples are:

Lakhmana Temple

Chuasath Yogini Temple

Devi Jagdamba Temple

Hanuman Temple

Brahma Temple

Dulhadev Temple

For tourist it is advisable to visit all the groups in the day time. In Western group of temples a sound and light show is organized which is a must to experience. Khajuraho Dance festival is held annually whence major Indian performers and exponent of Indian classical music and dance participate.

Pachmarhi: In the shadow of the mountains

Long hidden in deep recess of Satpura Ranges, Pachmarhi hills were the fiefdom of the Thakur landlords during the Raj and before. Mostly inhabited by Korku Tribal communities since prehistoric times the hills remained in the deep labyrinth of obscurity till the 19th Century.

Captain James Forsyth discovered the hills and the communities during his exploration of the Central Indian Highlands. He has penned vivid account of the hill region in his book. He was instrumental in bringing forth the bounty of the majestic hill ranges and their natural wonders.

Even till today Pachmarhi is unspoiled, pristine and a panoramic grandeur that is breathtaking and stuns. It is home to wide variety of natural wonders like water falls, caves, deep glens, rising mountains and meandering rivulets. It is one of the finest region for trekking amidst forest clad mountain slopes and valleys.

Far away from the maddening crowd, the hill town is a cantonment, and from periphery onwards it is declared as a wildlife sanctuary. The township is a fulcrum of tourism on hill sides. Most of the accommodation is based here except that of MP Tourism Dept and some government rest houses and very old private lodges.

The place has much to offer in terms of natural spots and is an adventurous destination for trekkers. The deep valleys, steep precipices and dangerous footholds encountered while traversing mountainous treks are very risky. Untrained trekkers can lose their life or suffer heinous injuries.

The preserve is enveloped by dense forests of Sal and Mixed Type with diverse topography and degree of sunlight. The inner rocky confines support mind boggling variety of ferns, algae, fungi, herbs and shrubs. The degree of sunlight and wetness varies considerably in the unfathomable labyrinths of rocky core. This is the reason for survival and growth of amazing floral wealth in the hills here. The meandering rivers support a variety of mega flora as they cries cross the tortured terrain.

The ancient caves harbor Hindu deity (Lord Shiva) while many hold Paleolithic evidence in terms of prehistoric paintings or petroglyph. The oldest signs of human habitation dates back to 20000 years perhaps more. The numerous object of religious worship present in the hill station draws huge crowds of Hindu devotees.

Enchanting fresh water pools, sparkling waterfalls, deep glens, sun rise and sunset points; clean rivers attract holiday makers by thousands. The green cover is the towering grace of this heaven on Earth and the canopy are preserved in their natural state created by the evolutionary process.

Some of the popular spots visited by all tourists are listed below:

Chauragarh Mountain – Lord Shiva

Dhupgarh Mountain - Sunset & Sunrise

Jatashankar Caves – Lord Shiva

Irene Pool

Fairy Pool

Handi Khoh – Glen

Priyadarshini Point – Sunset & Sunrise

Pandav Caves – Religious

Reech Garh – Hill

Gupt Mahadeo – Cave – Lord Shiva

Bade Mahadeo – Cave – Lord Shiva

Denva Darshan – River

B Falls

Dutchess Falls

Those with an exploratory zeal are bound to discover myriads of wonders here. For this extensive trekking is required in company of a guide. The guide has to be experienced since loosing way may mean never to return. Camping is not allowed in the forests and may require special permission being a cantonment it is unlikely to be granted.

The place is ideal for botanists and researcher since the floral bounty offer unique opportunity to study. The medicinal plants, herbs, shrubs and microscopic flora are found in wild abundance. Not only the scientists but the locals are impressive by their knowledge of vegetation with immense medicinal value.

Pachmarhi excels as tourism destination in Madhya Pradesh. The professional tour operators in MP offer exclusive package for Pachmarhi. There are many hotels in the township while MPTDC resorts are situated in wilderness as well.  

The best way to explore this destination in by jeeps and there plenty available for hire. One needs to engage services of local guides for trekking on way to places of interests. Trekking in forests and campning is not allowed.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Sahydhari range in Maharastra

The herd of black bucks somewhere near Bhusaval on Jabalpur Pune rail track was an elating sight. The group of twenty or more was peacefully grazing on the scrub alongside the track. The scene is reminiscent of olden days whence larger tracts where occupied by these antelopes and other animals. But a crucial component of our ecosystem is now missing all over India and survives in small pockets totally at the mercy of humans. 

The range is impressive by all means but lack the verdant greenery of Satpura. It is difficult to make out if the bare mountains evolved as such or were deprived of the green cover. Sahyadhari Mountains exhibit stepped up elevation with plateau on the top of most. 

They are at their scenic most during the rains whence small trickling falls all over make the mountains enchanting. In the dry season the mountains appear as ghost of the dead with bare stony ridges and flats deprived of any short of cover. Sahydhari begin from Gujarat and traverse down to Southern India - the Western Ghats. The mountains block the narrow coastal strip from the Deccan Plateau and deprive the region of rain.    

Ironically the ranges which spread over one lakh sixty thousand sq km are labeled as biodiversity hot spot. They may still be at places but most of the hill ranges are bare bereft of any green cover.  The hills form the largest catchment area of complex network of rivers in India.

The formation started right from the beginning of tectonic plate movement from the major chunk the Gondwanaland. The ranges are called by various local names throughout their long stretch. In Northern Maharashtra they are known as Sahyadhari.   

All along the track the bare mountains offer shelter to large and small towns and number of rural settlements. Humanity resides here since ages and major towns like Pune have emerged. The destruction of natural belts is very much evident on this scape. Overstretching civilization, expanding agriculture and growing cities have become the hall mark of this journey. Expansion and rabid industrialization is evident and the large housing complex and colonies are nothing but modern ghettos. The nature has taken  back seat and the plunder and loot of natural resources goes on. And this is the story all over urban India.  

The journey to Pune was a sad reminder of destruction of natural lands taking place all over. The pretext is there - so many people to feed so many people to employ and what not. It is a losing battle for nature and for the poor population of this country who have little to gain from the influx of poison fuming industries. All the wealth is in hands of the industrialists, traders, land owners and the corrupt politicians.    

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Shivpuri - Lesser Known Destination in MP

From the plains of Uttar Pradesh you drive on Jhansi Shivpuri  Highway  towards  the Summer Capital of rulers of Gwalior. The plains lead to a rugged countryside on which lies the Karera Bustard Sanctuary. The Great Indian Bustard is rarely seen in this dacoit infested area.       

You climb further uphill through Madhav National Park to reach  the township. The place is small but enchanting and unique mix of Rajasthani and MP culture. Shivpuri is named after Lord Shiva and important tourist centers are villages in vicinity that harbour anceint Hindu & Jain temples they are Terahi, Indari, Ranod, Sakarra and Mahua. Thes temples depict rock cut carvings on outer walls. Chamunda  Devi Temple is worth a visit. Some of the temples are over thousand years old and protected but many are in ruins beyond recognition. These places are not frequented by villagers and have overgrown vegetation encircling them. 

Madhav National Park is well known for its wildlife and once Mughals and Scindia's hunted in these pristine forest. The extant of the forest has decreased considerably and almost all remains in the protected area. The famous Chand Patha Lake harbors interesting migratory ducks and other bird species. George Castle stands erect amidst the forest, built for a king who never came. The palace has no historical significance. The elite past lives in numerous palaces and hunting lodges in the surroundings besides marble cenotaphs.       

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Indian Summer Travel

India retains its charm through thick and thin. Be it chilly winter, burning hot summer, monsoon or spring come along and you will relish each and every flavor. The summers in India are definitely hot perhaps not so in the extreme Northern confines - Himalayan Region.

The heat churns on from Mid April by this time most of the deciduous trees, grasses, herbs and shrubs have shed their leaves.The landscape changes dramatically as summer advances and you can see through once impenetrable canopy easily. The Palas and Amaltas and many other flowering tree bloom to color the landscape. The scapes take on an enchanting ambiance of tree skeleton interspersed with evergreen shrubs and vast empty land with exposed top soil. It is all lifeless black and khaki, green, red and yellow.

The summers are usually dry and hence more tolerable than humidity. The sun is up strong by nine am and tortures you till about four pm. The heat then starts to reduce in preparation for the night. The scorching desert night are the coolest.  

It is best to avoid traveling in the afternoon when the heat peaks. Carry lot of water with you in order to avoid dehydration. Eat light, add local salads and pickles to your diet. These increase perspiration and offer valuable micro nutrients, the salts clear your systems of toxic substances. Drink a lot of fruit juice during travel and eat the fresh one's often. In summers avoid meat and food item hard to digest. Due to extreme heat digestive capacity decreases hence eating vegetables and fruits is wise. Eat lots of curd or its derivatives. Your immunity decrease in the heat hence avoid roadside food or water which may not be sterile. 

Plan out your travel schedule so that you reach there quickly and avoid unnecessary travel hassle.  Save yourself from dehydration hence drink lot of liquid. Keep medicine for loose motions and indigestion with you all the time. Eat light snacks sold in packets and consume mineral water from quality brands. Visit upscale restaurant which maintain a high degree of hygiene.

Where light clothes and sandals as shoes can be stuffy and uncomfortable in summers. Summer garments should be able to reflect light in order to stay cool. Wear sunglasses to avoid solar glare.

Book hotel rooms or lodges which have air coolers or air conditioning. Travel in air conditioned rail compartments and luxury A/C buses and taxi. 

Bandhavgarh Pristine Paradise and Amazing Fort

In remote district of Madhya Pradesh or Central India lie the amazing imprints of an ancient human civilization.  The Rewa forests were known more by Shikari’s and wood loggers than others. It was a chance discovery of white tiger that brought Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve to the World tourist map.   The white tiger was found near these forests by the erstwhile Maharajah if Rewa estate.

The tiger reserve is situated in Umaria District a forest belt with dense canopy and tribal hamlets.  Since more than two thousand years tigers and humans lived together in this wilderness. Unlike the modern times there was no conflict between the two then. But civilization came one after the other and vanished into antiquity. The tigers remained but badly decimated by shikaris and poachers, the forest where ravaged and their wealth plundered. Today forests survive as small pockets scattered here and there.

Though a small reserve, Bandhavgarh is an enchanting paradise on Earth. Amidst the dense Sal forests lie ruins of ancient kingdom.  Scattered around are man made caves, stables, temples in ruin and shelters carved out of igneous rocks. The climb to Shesh Shaiyya is steep and rugged but rewarding. This mesmerizing pool besides the reclining statue of Lord Vishnu enthralls one and all. The ferns, vines, shrubs adorn the whole scape on the slopes of Bandhavgarh Hill. The pool is fed by trickles of water and miniature falls from the vegetation on the slope. Tigers splash in the pool whence devoid of humans.

From Shesh Shaiyya it is a steep climb to the top of the hill where in lies the magnificent 2000 year fort in ruins.  The hillock is at height of 800 MSL and is part of the Vindhya Range. It towers over the conglomeration of marshy grasslands, deep valleys and dense forest belts, fed by snaking rivulets all around. The place offers a panoramic view of the reserve.  The first spectacle is the arch still preserved but tampered by later dynasties. The second good spectacle is of a tall statue of Lord Vishnu on the edge over looking the forests below.  Then between stretches of grasslands there lie scattered large reservoirs all man made.  The statues of Lord in fish and turtle forms intrigue as do all zoomorphic depictions in this reserve.  The Laxman Temple stands near the rampart and is regularly visited by the worshipers.     

The ruins are scattered all over, the fort was not plundered or destroyed but disentangled with passage of times. But the process could not envelope the stone and masonry work which still remain.  Some structures still remain. The site is a virtual museum of ancient architecture and delightful carvings of Gods and Goddesses. There are many small temples within the fortification and more structures that are little away from the main complex. There are historical reference to it in ancient Hindu scriptures.

The plateau now back to wilderness supports lot of life forms including tigers and leopards. It is eerie and scary to be up there alone in the lost kingdom. The Fort is enchanting and esoteric - worth a visit if you wish to experience ancient India.

There are many places of interest near the park. Most of the accommodation in Bandhavgarh is offered by jungle resorts both luxurious and budget. Book hotels in advance to  avoid heavy seasonal rush. You can book Indian tiger tour as well at MP online kiosks. There are many affordable tour operator packages In MP that conduct wildlife safaris in the tiger reserve. the best season is winters but hot summer offers a unique ambiance to the visitors. 

The National Park is approachable from Jabalpur and directly from New Delhi up to Umaria by Rail. It is at a distance of 170 plus km from Jbp which is connected by Air with New Delhi. All tiger reserves, Khajuraho and Pachmarhi can be reached from Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh. 

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Making a hotel booking in India

India is a marvelous and colorful destination with lot of freedom and diversity. It is fun to travel from one part of the country to another and experience the cross cultural diversity and varied ethnic profiles. The people are very hospitable and warm, it is good to mix with local families and communities.

There are hardly any orthodox communities, hence it is easy and fun to mingle with them men women children all. Some people are sensitive about food as they are vegetarians but not anything else....may be places of should enter bare feet. And yes try to war local garb or Indian dress you will really be accepted fast. Do not trust single men for they may be trouble makers. Some people on roadside or destinations are very curious about foreign visitors, politely brush them aside. 

Safe Travel 
Anyway traveling in the country is safe provided you take basic precautions that you would take in any other country. The more planned your itinerary is the better it is. Your holiday can get mired in bewildering confusing in this large country without preplanned efforts. In deep recess you may not find modern amenities and facilities so purchase all your stuff and carry along. Find before hand what is available and what is not? 

Hotel Reservation

Many Indian hotels have not yet gone online in a proper way.  Making a hotel search and having an online tour of the accommodation is not that easy. The website are built haphazardly hence you do not get a good impression of the property. 

The hotel owners are not aware of online marketing or have little faith in it. Since online search is limited in India but booking does come from a properly placed site on SERPs. If you have no contact in the destination you are visiting than the travel agent, review sites and word of mouth is your only information source. These are unreliable at times so you may not find things as had been told to you.

Take a destination guide that would be a great help. Some guides like Lonely Planet are very reliable. These are one stop shop for travel and related information. Carry one with you always. Read as much about India as you can with focus on the route you are taking and the destinations to be visited.  

The lanes and by lanes where the hotel is situated may be confusing. In the maze of Indian mega city it is easy to get lost and loose your stay. Best is to take a card and phone number before you step out. Even if you need a local guide ask your hotelwalla. He is gaining from you so will he hesitate to help you. 

In this country all properties in cities and tourism destinations have touts or roadside booking agents. Your rickshaw wallah, auto driver, taxi driver will help you in booking but then they have their own loyalties. You would be lucky if you get to the right place for a stay.  But this also time wasting since you may have to rush immediately for a meeting.

Online Bookings

So the only recourse are websites online with proper information some review sites like trip adviser, fodors, frommers, travel post and the are reliable source. There are many blogs and websites like brand hotels Worldwide that offer reliable information since they have no loyalties with any one.  But at the most this contains little information.

When making reservations online do not just send your stay information and send money. It is better to get full information  using the online form. After few conversations you can take the plunge.

Tour Formalities
So it remains difficult for a visitor from foreign country to choose an accommodation online. Any once you have landed at your destination hotel resort than what. Well first you need an identity card like your passport. For Indians driving license, Income tax pan card will do for identity. An ATM card does not work please remember. 

For inbound visitors it is important that their arrival and departure information is passed to the nearest police station. You have to fill forms in which passport information is submitted. It is the resort owners responsibility to see that the information is submitted to the police. Fill in the booking information for sure. The hotels have a common register for noting down the bookings this is compulsory and you are secure once your details are noted down. Do keep friends and relatives informed as to where you have stepped in.  The precautions are necessary if your are putting up at a budget lodge or a cheap city inn. Some areas may be unsafe in a destination so try to find out the locality and do not stay there. And yes do not move around late or avoid travel at night.  

Before checking in you must have visited the room and made sure of you comforts. In the room keep all your valuable locked or deposit them in a hotel locker. Take special care of your passport and money loosing either of them will be terribly. As and when you move out make sure that you hire a taxi or auto that the accommodation provides. Hence you will be traveling locally with somebody known. Most of the hotels and resorts are in touch with travel services hence it is safer to hire through them.   

On the first day of the stay make sure of the food. Indian cuisine is marvelous but you can make request to lower down a thing or two specially chillies. Never at at roadside joints in case of emergency pick up a plain vegetable, roti or naan all hot right out of the pan. Carry branded mineral water all along.

Ignore the consternation and uncertainty. India is a wonderful country with lots to offer in varied niche sectors in tourism. Read a lot on travel basics and the come home for many a magical journeys.   

Sunday, March 6, 2011

How India Travels!

People in India travel a lot especially during festivals, in weddings, on holy occasions and in holidays. The most eager traveler is the rural folks who are not privileged enough to go on holidays.  The people of the country are tradition keepers hence change does not come fast. 

India still travels in rail. The Indian Railway provides the most popular mode of transport to the people. Incidentally it is the cheapest as well as most networked system. No wonder Indian rail journeys are most written about. The journey can be very comfortable if you are traveling in air conditioned class with a reserved berth. But not many can afford it.  

The largest number of travelers crowd the trains and buses during holy occasions like the Kumbh Mela.  This is followed by those going in to attend a political rally. Seasonal travel during holidays - Diwali, Post Exam (summer), Holi, Marriages, create the worst kind of rush in the trains. The tickets are booked in advance and it is very difficult to step in the sleeper class.  

Bus is another mode of cheap transport in the land - and worst. Most of the state run buses are ill equipped for luxury and comfort but then they are the cheapest. For luxury and comfort the answer is luxury bus services. They are costly but nevertheless preferred by upper class since travel by personal car is costlier. 

Air Travel is unthinkable if you have less money or your company does not sanction. Most of the air travelers are Government employees, Employees of big companies and the jet set who have fat load of money. The middle class flies only in emergency or during pressing need for quick travel.     

It is the only way. If you wish to experience the land from close train travel is the best followed by a bus or  taxi. Taxi is very costly used only by corporate big wigs and tourists on holiday. For holiday makers from foreign countries taxi is most recommended. It is most comfortable to travel for short distances from one destination to another. Car Rentals and Motor Home rentals are available as well but it is not yet very popular in India.    

Traveling Attire in India

India is a diverse country with varied climate and weather conditions. It is a country where lifestyle changes from one place to other. This is the impact of diverse culture which is ever evolving. The major difference can be noted in culture are in spoken language or dialect, food preferences and attire. 

Physical features are common though ethnic differences can be noted. Tribal and other ethic communities are more varied and distinct. People in Central plains and Deccan are look alike with minor differences.  Due to the size of the country an amazing diversity is prevalent. This is what is appealing about this land where landscape, people and weather changes by the distance.

Visitors from foreign countries as well as many locals are stunned by ever changing India. But in spite of differences people exhibit some common characteristic. The people of this country love age old tradition which they do not distance from even under the garb of modernity.

Hence tourist interested in assimilating with the people while on visit should first realize the local traditions. Wearing local dress is found to be more acceptable by Indians. Another benefit is revealing dress is avoided since some people are not used to it. Revealing outfit may invite a bunch of eve teasers which can be trouble some. 

There are dresses in local communities which are typically for men and women. While women have more covered up garb, men can wear scanty clothing in case of heat and humidity. The urban class in this land  has a common dress code i.e pant and shirt for men and sari or salwar kameez for women. Some women  and all young girls in cities wear jeans, t shirts and frocks. But older women prefer traditional garments especially if they are divorced of widowed. The wedding dress is rich embroidered or embellished with colorful motifs made of gold silver threads called Zari.        

In rural areas customary dress is very common and typical to the region. Hence every region or state in the country has its own traditional garb.  This applies to the whole sub continent - Pakistan, Nepal, Bangla Desh and neighboring island Sri Lanka.  People in states have distinct clothing choice especially in rural areas. 

The Indian clothing is highly colorful and embellished at times though instances of plain garb can be encountered especially among the poor or very conservative lot.  During festivals lot of dress styles emerge colorful, sparkling  bright and as vivacious as the occasion. Similarly in marriages gaiety of the event is best expressed by traditional  garbs - kurta pajama, sherwani, salwar kameez, colorful embroidered saree, lehanga choli and lungi. The latter is more popular in Southern India.  

In Northern India and Pakistan Shalwar Kameez is more popular. It is Like the sari this dress has crossed International boundaries and hence is available in stores in Dubai, UK, USA and other parts of Europe. The top rated fashion designers in Pakistan have glamorized this dress. 

The saree is popular all over India and appears in mind boggling  patterns, colors and designs. The fashion industry is burgeoning in the country. Hence traditions Indian Sari  & Suits are popular in many countries. There are many stores which sell these online. In many foreign countries shops keep fashion and traditional clothing from India. The traditional clothing with regional flavors are not available anywhere else. One can buy such garbs while on tour to that destination.   

Traditional garments in the sub continent compliment the society and are user friendly. They are weather compliant and soothing to the eyes of the locals. Hence you as foreign tourist will feel at home among the ethnic lots.   

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Mahakaleshwar - Abode of Lord Shiva

This is where one of the 12 Jyotirlinga (Shiva Lingam) resides, besides the Rudra Sagar Lake. It is one of the holiest destination of the Hindus on pilgrimage. This is the only South facing or dakshin muki temple among the twelve Jyotirlinga. The temple lies within the center of Ujjain city on Kshipra River in Malwa in MP.   

Besides the lingam there reside idols of many Hindu Gods including Nandi in the premises. Nandi Bull is the vehicle of Shiva as always portrayed alongside the Lord.  The temple overpowers the holy city of Ujjain and is an an architectural marvel. The fine carvings and sculptural finesse creates and aura of awe and majestic splendor.  

During ancient times the city was called Avantika and once ruled by Chandrasen an ardent devotee of Shiva. The city was protected by the Lord against warring neighbors who had an evil eyes on its treasures. There are numerous temples within and outside the confines of the Holy City. Those on long stay can visit the temples in order to explore the religious places of importance.

Madhya Pradesh destinations

The major tourism destinations in Madhya Pradesh are of course the tiger reserves Khajuraho Temples  and Pachmarhi Hill Resort. But then one cannot forget Amarkantak, Orchha and Mandu. For the religious kind Amarkantak, Sanchi, Omkareshwar, Chitrakoot, Maheshwar (Maheshwari Sarees), Bhojpur and Ujjain are a must visit.  

Major towns must visit are Jabalpur, Indore, Gwalior and Bhopal for food, commerce and sightseeing historical monuments. Jabalpur is the best conduit for the tiger reserves - Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Pench and Satpura National Park. One can also reach Khajuraho & Panna tiger reserve via Bandhavgarh or from Satna/Katni. For sightseeing Jabalpur has the famous Mable Rocks, Dhuandhar Falls, Chausathjogini and the Madan Mahal Fort. 

There are many lesser known destination worth visiting in Madhya Pradesh but proper research should be done before moving in. Among Hill Resorts Pachmarhi takes the cake. It is a pristine forest with magical landscape - Valleys, forest clad mountains, ancient temples and numerous waterfalls.   

For those averse to making rigorous travel arrangement package tours to MP are best. The tour companies do all the work for for a hassle free holiday in Central India. Though English is in use everywhere a touch of Hindi Dialect would make things easier. In rural and distant areas banking and shopping would be limited. Hence it is better to pack oneself with the prerequisite before leaving.

Traveling in the state is safe but still it is better not to be on road during the night time. One should keep one's valuable in sight since minor theft can take place.