A sea side town Mahabalipuram - South India

The city of Mahabalipuram is famous for its seashore which has an interesting group of ancient rock temples displaying the Dravidian style of architecture. The shore temples give a more ancient look and feel, older than they actually are, perhaps because of the wear and tear caused by the sea and brine.

This coastal town - is hot, humid round the year, but a treat to the eyes, mind and the shopper in you. If you are looking for a great photography expedition this is the place to get picture perfect shots. The shopper in you can revel in the multitude carvings and statutes. The main road is dotted with tiny tiny shops in a long row on either side of the road offering antiques in wood, stone and clay. Some pieces I came upon were truly heart stopping stunning! And indeed bought some too. Splendid sculptures. Beautiful statues made of granite stones. Handicrafts made of soapstone, sea-shell articles and jewelry to pine for. One needs time to explore, mull and decide on what one must buy. Time was a luxury I did not have this trip unfortunately.

It was during the rule of the Pallavas, many poets, dramatists, artists, artisans, scholars and saints emerged making the Pallavas the pioneers of new styles both in art and architecture. These creative energies reside to date in this small temple town especially when you see the multitude paintings on sale.

The spectacular beach of Mahabalipuram attracts thousands of tourists all through the year. The beach forever is crowded and packed with families literally lined shoulder to shoulder along the shores in their daily clothes as they wait for the water to rush up their legs while others escape the waves only to return for another bout. Either way, there is no end to the laughter as the sun sets and the ebb and flow draws nearer, it takes with it the memories of those who had enjoyed it as they part ways. There are other things to do while in Mahabs - a crocodile farm, snake venom extracting center, a school of art and sculpture, the annual dance festival among the many attractions for the tourists and travelers alongside the beach. Not surprising hence why tourists flock to Mahabs.

I was equally amazed to discover this place being a popular dating destination for many lovebirds. Most of them were in their private world of love and passion in corners, behind the rocks, in the trenches, and inside the caves declaring their undying commitment for each other. One such couple even approached me to take a picture of theirs on their mobile camera phone-while they melted into each others eyes.

The combination of beach and rocks AND the awesome monolithic structures makes Mahabalipuram very special. A day is simply not enough to explore this historical site. A return journey hence becomes a must. Mahabalipuram is barely an hour from Chennai, very very doable .


Haridwar, India - Gateway to the abode of Gods

The topmost memories from Haridwar are of food and food smells. Small dinky places that dish up some delicious tasty food. The fare – simple and non fussy. “Heavenly food’ is an ingestible experience after all. I admit food took on a new meaning in this town of priests and saints and holiness and piety. Aloo poori, dal katchori-chutney, hot samosas-channa, bhatti ki roti with saag and achaar, aloo paranthas and dahi, hot jalaebis made in ghee, kheer-maal pooa dipped in sugar syrup-crispy and soft, hot pakoras of potato and cottage cheese - the feast was endless. Not once did any of us suffer from any tummy trouble. We gorged happily

There is much to do if you like to look at temples and tramp through the extensive alleys, checking out a mass of trinkets in Haridwar. For us the summer heat was unbearable so trudging out time was really mornings and evenings and afternoon time was for lazing, chatting, napping, reading and ipodding.

Haridwar is a mixture of religious pilgrims and industry. We met some people from Holland who were helping to set up a lathe machine at one of the factories. They had interesting stories to narrate of some of the places they had visited in India and how they attracted locals who wanted to buy dollars from them or sell gaanja or charas to them. They found the Hindi movies good time pass and enjoyed the local chai at the small shops

We stayed at a dharamshala –which was clean, hygienic and very hospitable. Dad used to donate money towards this place’s upkeep over the years so we decided to go check and trace this dharamshala and see for ourselves if the money donated was being put to good use. It was gratifying to see the place being run like clockwork – very welcoming to pilgrims from all over the country, providing clean comfortable rooms and facilities. We were very impressed by this very upscale dharamshala in white marble that shone and sparkled in the sunlight, where service was always with a smile and people had the time to chat and narrate interesting stories of the holy Ganga or of other visitors and their experiences. No food is allowed within the premises here, as a result keeps the 4 legged monkeys at bay

We also meet a pandit in Haridwar who owned archives of revelations in these large, leather bound books with pages and pages of Sanskrit script. The archives dated back to the 17th Century (thereabouts) and every time a member of our clan visited this pandit an entry was always made. Events such as births and deaths are also marked in these records. We too were requested by this saintly man to make some remarks - Dad obliged, in his brilliant handwriting. As a result we all too, are now, part of this documentation, recorded for posterity.

Evenings would see us at Har-ki-Pauri ghat - a transformed landscape from daytime- into this - magical spiritual experience – all set for the Ganga aarti. This experience cannot be missed under no circumstances. Haridwar visit would be a waste if Ganga aarti is not participated in. The feeling of being part of the aarti being performed, the chants, the temple bells, the dark river waters amidst which are little lit lamps surrounded by flowers floating gently in its wake, the hymns and the collective crowds all pulsating in one energy revering the goddess Ganges – all of this, is an enchanting experience of sound and colour. Breathtaking. Makes one marvel at our rich tradition and culture all over again.

Har Ki Pauri is believed to be the exit point of the Ganges from the mountains and entry into the plains. Also known as the Brahm Kund, this ghat was built by King Vikramaditya in memory of his brother Brithari who often meditated on the banks of the river Ganga. History records an imprint of Lord Vishnu’s foot on one of the stones present on the ghat, which is indicative of the name.

At Haridwar, the mighty daughter of the mountains becomes the mother of the land – Ganga Ma