Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Great Escape Water Park

I had a good time at The Great Escape Water Park, near Mumbai, recently. The place is located about 60 kms outside Mumbai, off the Mumbai - Ahmedabad National Highway, on the route to Vajreshwari.

The place has 3 large pools, one of which was not functional the day we visited. Of this, one of the pools is for adults, with about 6 water slides. The second is more for children, with kiddie slides. However, both the pools had a mix of adults and children, all having a good time. In addition, there is a DJ who continuously belts out the latest hits, with all time favourites.

In addition to the slides, the place offers breakfast, lunch, and evening snacks, along with snacks in between. The food was uniformly good. For Rs. 350 all inclusive for adults, and Rs. 250 for children, the place offers great Value for Money.

A few observations:
1. There were hardly any takers for most of the rides. Either the visitors were not very adventurous, or they were more keen to just laze around in the pool. If the latter were the case, then I am amazed that people were willing to travel for a couple of hours, and spend good money, just for time in the water!
2. The adult pool was too shallow. It had to be so, because a lot of children were in the pool. So one can't blame the park authorities, but it does take away from the experience.
3. It was heartening to see a lot of greenery within and around the park. Let's hope it stays that way.

This was my second experience of a water park. The first was at Mehsana, Gujarat, near Ahmedabad, about 10 years ago. It was quite surreal to see this water park, in the middle of nowhere, in a dry, dusty environment. The place was not very crowded, but I don't remember if I visited on a weekday or weekend. I wonder if the place is still functional...

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Details and photos of our Ladakh trip

We flew in to Leh from Delhi with Air Deccan. In addition to Air Deccan, Jet Airways and Indian Airlines also fly on this route. All the flights are in the early morning, so we had to spend the night at Delhi airport.

We had booked ourselves at the Hotel Shambha La, in Leh. This is one of the more expensive hotels in Leh, situated about 2 kms from the centre of the town. Our room looked a bit worn, and definitely not worth the amount we were paying. The food and service was quite good. However, after resting for a couple of days to recover from altitude sickness, we moved out to a far cheaper Guest House, right in the middle of town.

I strongly recommend 'Khan Mansil Guest House', for travelers looking for a mid range place to stay in Leh. The rooms are clean, the family very helpful, and the location central. It is a no frills place, but well worth the money we paid.

There are quite a few good eating options in Leh town. However, being the end of the tourist season, many of the places were closing down. I would recommend Pizza de Hut and Leh View restaurants. There is also a Tibetan family run small restaurant at the corner opposite 'Aluya' restaurant, which I believe, stays open the entire year. We also spent a fair bit of time at the Desert Rain Cafe. A very relaxed place, which serves a good variety of teas and coffees.

Getting around is expensive. We did not try the local bus service, but hired a taxi to get around. Our first day trip was to Hemis and Thikse monasteries, and Stok and Shey palaces. These 4 places can be covered in about 8 hours, which gives you an hour at each place, and an hour for lunch. Our second day trip was to Alchi temples, Likir monastery, and Basgo fort ruins. On the way, we saw the confluence of rivers Indus and Zanskar, and magnetic hill. The latter is a very interesting phenomenon where our idle car gets pulled up an incline, due to the influence of a hill across the road! Again, this trip can be covered comfortably in 8 hours. However, there are hardly any decent eating options along the road, so it is recommended that one has a heavy breakfast, and carry some snacks for the trip.

Our third, and final, day trip was to Pangong Tso. Tso means lake in the local language, and this lake is a beauty. It is situated on the border with China, so ones needs a permit to visit this place. Any Guest House / Travel agent can
arrange this permit. It is a 4 hour drive one way to the lake, and the road crosses Chang La. At 17,800 feet (5,340 metres), this is the third highest motorable road in the world!

But the lake is well worth the time, effort (and money!) to reach. The waters of the lake shine green and blue in the sunlight, reflecting the mountains all around. The lake is long and narrow, with one third in India, and the rest in China (Tibet). Again, being the end of the tourist season, the staff at the small restaurant there were packing up to leave that same day, but they still managed to rustle us up some Maggi noodles.

I have uploaded some photos at Flickr. You can view them here.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Short Report on visit to Leh, Ladakh

My wife and I visited Leh (Ladakh) for 8 days from October 6th - 13th. The trip was a suddenly planned affair, but thanks to the numerous low - cost airlines, we managed to get travel tickets. And being the off season, finding accommodation also was not a problem.

The place itself is magnificent. It is hard to imagine that one is still in India, one feels more like it is Central Asia / Tibet. At an altitude of 3,500 metres (11,000 feet), the oxygen levels in the air are lower than what we are normally used to. It takes between 24 - 48 hours for the body to acclimatise, and it is imperative that one rests till one is fully acclimatised. We took it easy the first day, but it still took us till the third day to be comfortable.

It was also extremely cold, with the temperature being around 5 degree celsius in the night. But the days were clear and bright. Interestingly, though it is cold, because of the high altitude, the sun feels extremely powerful. It is said that Ladakh is the only place where if one sits in the sun with his feet in the shade, one can get both sun stroke and frost bite at the same time!

We were also lucky that we had a full 8 days, so we were in no hurry to see the sights. We visited all the famous monasteries around Leh, but the highlight of the trip was a visit to Pangong Tso, a lake on the boundary of India with China (Tibet), and situated at an altiture of 4200 metres. To reach the place, we had to cross the world's third highest road - Chang La - at an altitude of 5,340 metres (17,800 feet). At that altitude, it is an effort to even stand and walk. And it is recommended that one does not spend more than 10 minutes there to avoid falling seriously sick. We took the mandatory photographs, and left the place.

We really enjoyed the place, and the time we spent there. When I started the journey, I was excited thinking that it would be a once in a lifetime journey. But I am not so certain that I would not be traveling there again. The next time, we plan to go in summer, and do some trekking.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Mahim Nature Park

We decided to use the occasion of World Photography Day (19th of August) to visit the Mahim Nature Park. Not many people are aware of this gem right within the heart of Mumbai. And that is a shame. The place is a veritable oasis of green, and offers a variety of habitat within a small area - pond, creek, and well wooded areas. It is hard to imagine that this place was a garbage dump 25 years back. Kudos where it is due - it is one of those rare cases when the governing body has done a great job. Today, the Mahim Nature Park offers nature lovers a place to immerse oneself, and pursue their hobbies - be it Bird watching, or photography.

The place can be covered in an hours leisurely walk, but obviously, one can spend much more time observing nature in all its splendour. As we were without binoculars or camera, we were happy to just walk. And it was a rewarding walk - we spotted Ashy Prinias, Tailorbirds, a cormorant, cattle egret, koel, Red whiskered bulbul, with the highlight being a Fantail Flycatcher.

After the walk, we were fortunate to see a slideshow of nature photographs clicked by Kakubhai, a veteran photographer. He showed us some of lion and tiger photographs, and they were simply beautiful. It was amazing how he has been able to capture and transmit the emotions of the animals to the viewers. He also regaled us with stories of his 4 decaded of experience photographing animals in the wild.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Malshej Ghat - in the monsoon

Malshej is famous for its waterfalls in the monsoon season. As my wife has not visited this place, we took the opportunity of her birthday to drive to Malshej.

I had last passed through Malshej ghat more than 2 years back, on the way to Junnar and Shivneri. In the meantime, the road was upgraded from a State Highway to a National Highway (NH 222), and an already good road just got better.

We encountered just a bit of traffic at Kalyan, but the road from then on was clear, and mind blowingly beautiful. A two lane grey ribbon with clean white markings winding its way through lush green well wooded countryside...this must easily be one of the best roads for a long drive immediately outside Mumbai.

On crossing Murbad, the traffic thins out even further, and the imposing Western ghats loom high on the horizon. The road hurtles straight towards the mountains, and takes a turn at the last moment to begin the ascend into the Deccan Plateau. For a few kilometres, the road runs parallel to the towering mountain face, rising near vertically about 500 metres. Words cannot do justice to the experience.

Soon as you start climbing the ghat, the waterfalls for which Malshej is famous start to appear. Unfortunately, with the rains on an extended leave of absence in the month of July this year, the waterfalls were just trickles. But that did not deter groups of men from frolicking underneath one that crashes down to the road from an overhanging cliff face. An enterprising person has also set up a small stall selling tea and snacks beneath this overhang!

We stopped for lunch at the MTDC resort. As is almost always the case, MTDC had the best location - overlooking the Konkan stretching down below. On both sides are tall mountains, standing as sentinels to the Deccan plateau extending behind. The tops of the mountains were framed by clouds, and there was not a patch of brown in all the green. Across the valley could be seen the grey ribbon of road coming out of a tunnel, and snaking upwards. Simply stunning, and almost spiritual.

We were at Malshej ghat for a couple of hours, before starting the return journey. Along the way, we managed to get good, close up views of the Malabar Whistling Thrush. We also oberved a pair of Brahminy Mynas at the MTDC resort.

Malabar Whistling Thrush

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Taj Mahal, and the hype around '7 Wonders...'

No doubt, The Taj is a beautiful monument. But I am surprised at the hype being created by this voting. It is just a gimmick of some private company, not any International organization like the UN. I personally feel the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites is a better list to be on that this 7 Wonders list.

I say this because having just one monument from India, and just 7 in the whole world is a major disservice to the rest of the wonderful monuments that exist in the world. Take the case of India, is there any reason why the stupendous Kailash temple at Ellora should not be as highly talked about as the Taj? Or the cave paintings at Ajanta, which touch you in a spiritual way that cannot be described, only experienced? I personally found Akbars' mausoleum at Sikandra more moving than the Taj, which I experienced as a very cold monument - strikingly beautiful, yes, but also aloof.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Bhatsa Dam & Igatpuri

After a gap of a few months, we again hit the road last weekend. This was a completely different travel trip from any that we had done before. To begin with, we left home at 3 in the afternoon - quite a change from our usual 6 AM departures! And the drive was a short one - only about 60 kms to Bhatsa nagar, again a change from the 250 odd kms we normally do.

The place is dominated by the Bhatsa dam. After visiting a few farms in the area, we had dinner at a small family run hotel in the village, before retiring for the day.

I woke up early the next morning, for a spot of bird watching. The dry deciduous forest along the road leading to the dam provided for a very enjoyable couple of hours of bird watching. The highlights for me included the Tawny Bellied Babbler, as well as good views of White Bellied Drongoes, Brown Headed Barbet (usually heard, not seen), White Throated Thrush, and a couple of Grey Hornbills.

After a brunch at the village, we left Bhatsa Nagar, headed for Igatpuri.

We reached Igatpuri after a painful drive through the Kasara ghat. I have travelled a few times along this stretch, and except for my last drive back from Saputara, have always encountered either heavy traffic, or bad road conditions along this stretch. And this time was no different, with lots of heavy trucks struggling to make the ascent. I think it is high time the authorities came down heavily on old trucks that create an obstruction for the rest of the road users.

Anyway, we finally reached Igatpuri, and after a refreshing chai, headed for Talegoan lake. The lake is an artifical one, created by a small dam. The setting is really beautiful, with the hills of Igatpuri all around, and the higher peaks of the Sahyadris visible in the distance. I had to tear myself away from this place to visit Dhammapuri - famous for its Vipassana meditation course. We were quickly shown through the center, after which we called it a day.

The next day was one of complete relaxation - spent a couple of hours on the porch, basking in the sun. The weather was extremely pleasant, because of the strong breeze. We left just after noon, had a buffet lunch at Manas Resorts, and reached home by 4 PM.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Road Trip to Goa - Day 4

The next day, we headed for Tarkarli beach - 8 kms to the south of Malvan town. Again, the beach was nice, but not much better than Ganapatipule beach, as the guidebooks led us to believe. We had breakfast at the MTDC resort right on the beach. We then went back to malvan town, and took the boat across to Sindhudurg fort. The fort is expansive, with beautiful views back across the coconut tree fringed Malvan bay. At one corner of the fort was a small sandy cove, lapped by the crystal clear green waters of the Arabian sea. But the highlights of the fort are a temple dedicated to Shivaji Maharaj, and hand and foot prints of Shivaji himself.

We then did a bit of shopping for home cooked local Malvani stuff, before having lunch at the restaurant in the hotel we were staying. After lunch, we started our drive back - the time was 1:45 PM. The first part of the drive was along the Mumbai - Goa Highway, till Kharepatan.From Kharepatan, we turned right, off the National Highway to a State Highway headed towards Kolhapur. The road was narrow and twisting, but in reasonably good shape. We stopped for a chai at a small tea shop located on the side of a tree covered hill - was a nice experience. The time was 3:45 PM. We then hit a stretch of ghat, and as always, the Western Ghats was a beautiful sight to behold. Unfortunately, the condition of the road deteriorated as we neared Kolhapur. The traffic increased as well, consisting mainly of sugarcane laden bullock carts. We finally reached Kolhapur city at 5:45 PM, and had some snacks and coconut water on the banks of a lake.

We then drove through Kolhapur, trying to find our way to the Pune Highway. It took a fair bit of time, and it was close to 6:30 by the time we hit the phenomenal 6 lane Bangalore - Pune Highway. Mumbai was 385 kms away, Pune 220. By the time we stopped for dinner at 9:15 PM, we were about 30 kms short of Pune - an average speed of 70 kmph. We started our last stretch at 9:45 PM. A pleasant surprise was that the Katraj Ghat tunnel was operational (it wasn't the last time I passed this way, while driving from Varandhe ghat in October 2006). And what a tunnel it is! One can
easily forget that one is in India while driving along this stretch. We soon came to the Mumbai Pune expressway, and covered the distance of the expressway in 50 minutes! We reached Vashi by midnight, and home by 12:30. The average speed for this last stretch was 90 kmph!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Road Trip to Goa - Day 3

We left Bambolim after breakfast, headed for Vengurla in Sindhudurg district of Maharashtra. Our objective was to check out some of the beaches in the South Konkan, before heading back for Mumbai via Kolhapur the next day.

We deviated off the main Mumbai - Goa highway before crossing into Maharashtra. Our first halt was at Mochemmad Beach. The access to the beach was through the village itself. The beach was completely empty, save for thousands of gulls right at the waters edge. Proof that humans rarely venture here. While the beach had clean sands, and water, it lacked shade where we could sit down to admire the view. It clearty did not measure up to the expectations I had, built up by whatever I had read about the beach.

We then headed for Vengurla town for lunch. Along the way, we saw a signboard for an MTDC Resort. We could not locate the resort on the first approach, and landed up at Vengurla town. We then backtracked and discovered that one cannot drive up to the resort, but had to park at the end of the road, and trek over a sand dune to reach the resort! On reaching the resort, we found that there was no accommodation to be had, as it was a long weekend on account of Shiv Jayanti. We also discovered, to our surprise, that this particular MTDC resort had no restaurant! We had lunch at a small restaurant at the place where we had parked the car. The lunch was homecooked, and quite delicious, though over priced (at Rs. 60 per fish thali).

After lunch, we checked out Sagareshwar beach. This was a nice stretch of clean golden sand, fringed by casuarina trees. The water was also clean, and inviting. We then decided to check out accommodation at Vengurla town itself. But as our guidebooks had mentioned, the hotels were very basic, though the location was awesome - overlooking Vengurla jetty, and the pristine stretch of sand marking Sagareshwar beach.

We then headed for Kudal, to check out accommodation there. And while it was definitely better than what we saw in Vengurla, it was a fair distance away from the sea, so we decided to hit Malvan town. We found decent accommodation right at the edge of Malvan beach - Hotel Sagar Kinara. We got a spacious room, overlooking the beach. We then strolled down the beach, taking in the sunset. We retired for the day after dinner in the room.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Road Trip to Goa - Day 2

We wanted to do nothing more than laze at a beach side shack. We debated between traveling to the far south (Palolem), but then decided to just check out the nearby Bambolim Beach. And the decision turned out to be just right. The beach met my expectations of the ideal beach. Clean golden coloured sand, fringed by swaying palm trees, and hills all around. So what if the water was not the clearest!

There were 2 shacks on the beach - one crowded with Indian tourists, and the other near empty. We obviously made it to the less crowded one (Bambo Bay). And had a delightful afternoon of beer, and delicious sea food. We then lazed under the beach umbrellas, and had an evening juice before heading back home.

For dinner, we headed to Sinquerrim, and 'Sweet Chilly'. There was a live band playing, and we had a nice dinner under the open skies. Thus ended a relaxing day in Goa.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Road Trip to Goa - Day 1

It had been a long standing desire of mine to do the iconic Mumbai - Goa Highway by car, wetted by our drive to Ganapatipule last year. I finally got an opportunity to do so a couple of weekends back, and a big Thanks to my wife for supporting me!

We started our drive at 6:30 AM on Friday. On crossing Panvel, we found out that a gas tanker had overturned near Karnala, necessitating a detour through Rasayani on the old Mumbai - Pune highway. That added 30 minutes. It was close to 8 by the time we crossed Nagothane. I encountered a bit of traffic, but as I rightly guessed, the traffic was all headed to Alibaug, and surrounding areas. As soon as we crossed Vadkhal Naka (the turn off to Alibaug), the traffic thinned out. And from then on, the drive was a dream. Being Mahashivratri, there was hardly any local traffic on the highway, and hardly any long distance travelers such as us.

We reached Chiplun at noon, halted for a chai, crossed Hathkkhamba (the turn off for Ratnagiri at 1:30), halted for refueling, and continued southwards, destination Goa. We were on the lookout for a decent place to halt for lunch, but we only found one at Kankavli. Neelam Countryside Resorts is strongly recommended for a break. The food was good, service friendly, and we refreshed ourselves with a game of carroms and table tennis!

The road narrowed after Kudal, and we had to slow down while crossing Sawantwaid, and entering Goa. As it was just around 6 when we entered Goa, we decided to head for Vagator beach to catch the sunset. Unfortunately, we encountered traffic at Margao, and just missed the sunset by the time we hit the sands at the base of Chapora fort. After a refreshing drink of coconut water, we reached our destination - my aunts' place in Bambolim - a little after 8 PM.

It was an extremely fulfilling drive, and strongly recommended for all road trippers!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Weekend trip to Saputara

The best trips are those that are unplanned. My wife and I were making plans to go out of town 'somewhere' over the weekend. As usual, it was Friday evening, and we had no clue where to go. At around midmight, after some failed attempts at finding some good driving destination online, we decided to head north to Gujarat, and Saputara.

It was nearly 8 AM by the time we got out of Mumbai, and we had to negotiate slightly heavy traffic immediately outside of Mumbai. It was nearly 10 by the time we reached Anam restaurant near Manor for breakfast. We then made good time on the simply fantastic Mumbai - Ahmedabad highway, which is part of the Goverment of Indias' Golden Quadrilateral Project. I can't wait for the day when most of the roads in India are of this quality.

Our next halt was at Tithak beach, a few kms off Valsad. I had read about this beach during my late night research. One web site even called it 'the best beach in Gujarat'. It was nothing of that sort! I have travelled to a few beaches on the West Coast of India, and the beaches get worse as one travels north.

We didn't spend much time at the beach, and continued on to Saputara. we deviated off the National Highway a few kilometres after Valsad. We had lunch at a small restaurant on the way, and reached Vansda National Park in the afternoon. Unfortunately, we couldn't drive into the park (my small car would not have handled the rough path :-)), but the drive along the thickly wooded park was a good experience in itself. We located a Ecoresort run by the state Government near the park. It was a simple resort, wondefully located. But as we were the only people there, it was not very appealing. We then continued onwards, reaching Saputara at 5 PM, after driving 350 kms. We located a nice hotel - Anando, overlooking the lake, and were pleasantly surprised by the (off-season) rate.

After freshening up, we headed for Valley View Point, and the ropeway ride across the valley. We followed that up with dinner at the market area of Saputara, and headed back to the hotel to call it an early night. I indulged in a bit of bird-watching around the hotel the next morning, and was rewarded with wonderful views of a Red Throated Flycatcher. Also spotted Sunbirds, and Grey Wagtails. We had a late breakfast at the hotel, checked out.

We continued with the bird watching around the hills of Saputara. Had a great time, with my first spotting of the male Paradise Flycatcher, with its brilliant white tail. Also spotted Tree Pipits, Tits, Drongoes, Verditer Flycatcher, and many more species.We headed back to Mumbai, via Nashik. The State Highway from Saputara to Nashik was exceptional. Our plan was to have lunch at the Taj hotel near Nashik, but we couldn't locate it, and ended up having a late lunch at Igatpuri. We made great time post lunch, reaching home in a flat 2 hours!

We had driven 600 kms over 2 days. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of roads I encountered. Credit where it is due - the government seems to be doing a good job. Easily the worst roads I encountered were in Mumbai city!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Bhopal - Museum of Man

If there is one museum that you should definitely visit in India, it just has to be the Museum of Man in Bhopal. We visited it by accident, as we had time, and were in the area. I guess that helps - one does not have very high expectations of the place.

The museum is largely open air, and spread over many acress. There are life size replicas of tribal villages, where one can walk in, and inspect the houses, etc. There is a fantastic myths exhibition. Here, mythological tales from various parts of the country have been recreated in stunning detail. There are explanatory texts in English and Hindi against each of the exhibit. One can spend hours reading the fascinating tribal tales from various nooks of the country, and admiring the stunning craftwork.

Further on in a museum tracing the evolution of man. A lot of information, presented very well. There is another indoor museum, with further details of the various tribes of India, and their lifestyles. A particularly stunning exhibit is a complete wooden residence from Himachal Pradesh. As I walked into this house, I actually felt transported to the Himalayas. Adjacent to the exhibits are TV screens which show documentaries related to that exhibit.

We really enjoyed the time we spent at this museum, and strongly recommend it to anyone visiting Bhopal.

Monday, January 29, 2007

A Trip to Bhopal - Day 3 - Bhojpur and Bhimbetka

We left for Bhimbetka early morning on the 3rd day of our Bhopal trip. Like the previous day, the road was a treat - and I missed driving my Opel Corsa Sail on it. We soon reached Bhojpur, the site of an old, incomplete Shiva temple. Only the sanctum sanctorum of the temple got completed, and the ramp that was used to carry the heavy stones to the top of this tall monument still stands.

The scale of the existing structure boggles the mind. The Shiva linga stands over 7 feet tall, and over 10 feet in circumference. This is fixed atop a 15 feet tall square pedestal, each side of which is about 10 feet. 4 huge columns tower around the Shiva linga, ending in a dome, easily a hundred feet above the ground level. I don't know the reason why the temple was never completed, and one can only imagine the full grandeur the temple would have exuded if it had got complete.

Around the temple are carvings engraved into the black stone, but never chiselled out.

We then proceeded southwards to Bhimbetka. This is the site of the second oldest cave paintings in the World - and another World Heritage Site. The location is beautiful, along the Satpura range of mountains. The area around the caves is forested, which adds to the natural beauty.

The cave paintings themselves are easily worth the travel. The highlight is the cave nicknamed "The Zoo", for its collection of wild animals, in white and red. These are the two predominant colours used in the series of cave paintings, with only a few paintings in some caves in yellow and green. The whole complex is neatly maintained, but you will need a guide to point out some of the paintings not at eye level. Most of the people I spoke with after we got back from our trip had not heard of the place. I don't know who is to blame for this - us folks for not taking the interest in knowing more about our wonderful country? The government for not doing enough, or the popular media, who publish article upon article on some small Swiss village, but don't deem such places of world importance as worthy of being written about?

The feeling was compounded when we ran into a couple of Israeli tourists the next day at Hotel Ashoka in Bhopal. Both were middle-aged, and one of them has made over 15 trips to India, spending many weeks during each visit. He has been to more places than most Indians will ever make to, staying here. And one could sense the feeling in his voice when he said about how beautiful our country is. Domestic tourism can do wonders for the economy of the country, and it is up to each of us to make this happen.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A Trip to Bhopal - Day 2 - Sanchi, Vidisha and Udaigiri

We hired a car and left Bhopal for Sanchi early on the second day, headed for Sanchi. We took the route via Raisen, and had good views of the fort atop a hill overlooking Raisen fort. However, the stretch from Raisen to near Sanchi was one of the worst I have ever experienced anywhere! There was just no road! Just a stretch of red gravel and dust, which continued for some 10 kms.

We were fortunate to reach Sanchi before the crowds, and could appreciate the splendour of the monuments in relative peace. The stupa, and other structures, are situated on top of a wooded hill, giving great views out over the countryside. The weather was just perfect with the fresh air and the warmth of the sun, to walk around and appreciate the intricate carvings over 2,000 years old. The museum at Sanchi has some nice sculptures recovered from around the area. A good exhibit is a photograph colllection which traces the 'discovery' of Sanchi.

After lunch at a nearby restaurant, we proceeded to Udaigiri, to view some caves containing carvings. After viewing the cave sculptures in Maharashtra (Ellora, Aurangabad, Kanheri, Karla), this came as a big disappointment. The only notable sculpture being one of Vishnu in the Varaha avataar.

Our last halt was at Vidisha. Some time back I had read in a book ont Indian architecture about a pillar erected at Vidisha bu Heliodoros - a Greek. It somehow fascinated me, and I had always wanted to view this. Not surprisingly, the place was not known to our driver, and neither was it to the travel agent who arranged for the car. It is locally known as "Khambha Baba", and is prayed to by some of the local folk. Vidisha is not a big town, so we managed to locate the place without any hassle. The pillar is not very big, but, standing as it does, on a square pedestal in a clearing amidst leafy trees, has its own charm.

We still had time on our hands, and a friendly driver, so we decided to check out a few more sights of Bhopal city. Our first halt was at a cave temple in Lalghati, situated mid-way up a hill on the north of the Upper Lake. Nothing spectacular. We then proceeded to Taj-Ul-Masjid, reportedly the largest stone mosque in South Asia. The mosque exuded an incredible air of peace, helped by the fact that there were only about half a dozen people when we visited. The large pink structure, flanked by towering minarets, in the warm evening light, made for a wonderful experience. We reluctantly pulled ourselves out of the mosque, and made for Arera colony, where we were staying.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

A trip to Bhopal Part 1 - Bhopal City

As my wife was traveling to Bhopal with her family last Thursday, I decided to take the chance to join them. I had been to Bhopal last year on work for a day, and I had liked what little I saw then to make me decide to visit the place on leisure.

We left by the weekly Habibganj express from Lokmanya Tilak Terminus on Thursday evening, reaching Habibganj (a suburb of Bhopal) on time at 5:30 AM. Our adventure started when we could not alight from the train on time, and got carried to the yard of Bhopal station. We had to jump down to the tracks, cross another stationary train, to reach the platform. We had the misfortune of getting into an auto with a drunken driver as well!

After lunch, we started our tour of the city. The first place we visited was the Charles Correa designed "Bharat Bhavan". This is a centre for the arts, where regular art exhibitions and musical events are held. There were no major performances when we went, but the place, overlooking the Upper Lake, is very peaceful. After tea at the canteen, we left for Van Vihar, the open air zoo. But it was closed, being a Friday, so we ended up boating on the Upper Lake. The weather was extremely pleasant, and we got great close up views of Gulls (Black Headed?) on the lake.

We then visited Gohar Mahal, situated on the northern bank of the Upper Lake. The place hardly sees any tourists nowadays, except during the days when there are 'haats' within the palace. This must be quite a sight, and we would have loved to be there when one of them was on.

Our last destination for the day was the 'Laxminarayan' temple, also called 'Birla Mandir'. It is not as grand in appearance as other Birla temples, but had a good setting on a hill, overlooking the Lower Lake and the city around.