Saturday, 22 October 2016

Udupi On Foot - Laid Back & Organized


Udupi is a small city on the Karnataka coast famous for three things: the cuisine, the Krishna Mutt and the Manipal Institutes. We explored this neat and beautiful place during the Diwali season; it was pretty much non-festive though. The plans were to be based in Udupi and explore some places close by, but the intermittent rains meant that we had to ditch other plans and focus on Udupi for a good two days. What that lead to was a steady liking for the place and now a latent wish to 'settle down' there in the future.

The expanse of the Krishna Mutt ...
... the Chariots on the left and Madhav Pond in the foreground


The Untouted Bus Stop

It was 5:30pm on the day of the Diwali Padva (new year) by the time we got down from the bus at the Udupi Bus Station - the upper one where the intercity buses halt - merely two and a half hours from the bustling tourist centre of Murudeshwara. It was already a long day. We had left early in the morning from Haldipur (near Honnavar), traveled up north to Gokarna and then back south again to Murudeshwara via Idgunji; with me chatting with the driver and making mental note of places to cover the next time I'm in the vicinity. We left our cab at Bhatkal, near Murudeshwara and boarded a bus for the temple town of Udupi.

Kasarkod beach near Honnavar
 The highway near Gokarna

The Murudeshwara Temple
 The coastline at Murudeshwara
The first thought that crossed my mind as I alighted the bus with a trolley bag was 'beware of the touts'. To my utter surprise there were none. Nor were there any rickshaw drivers or cabbies jostling to get a fare to the temple or a hotel nearby. It was a well organised bus stop - buses in line, conductors beckoning by shouting the route names - and clean too. We asked for directions to the Krishna Mutt and were happily directed. We then asked if we could get a hotel there and were happily told that you will get dozens near the Mutt - no jostling, no touting and no 'helping'.


Overcoming The Language Barrier

The language was a bit of a problem. Not everyone was conversant in Hindi or English and the only Kannada I speak are the words 'innage Kannada gothilla' (I can't speak Kannada). The simplest way to overcome the hurdle was to focus on key-words and avoid long sentences. The conversation with a shopkeeper to ask for directions to the Mutt went as follows:

Me: Excuse me, Krishna Mutt? (note the lack of a proper question, marginally raised eyebrows suggest well)
Shopkeeper: A#@#!^$ straight, @*#&^* tree, #@%%# left, @#%$^#, Corporation Bank, right, #@%@$ School, #@%#@% left, @#%@%# straight Tempalla!

It worked - Straight > tree > left > Corporation Bank > right > School > left > straight to the Mutt. In less than five minutes, without the need to ask anyone again, we were on a street where straight ahead we could see the tower of the Mutt.

Here we decided to look for a place to stay. We entered the first place we saw, liked the room, liked the rate (written on a chart at the reception) and booked it straight away. The place is called Vyavhar Lodge (Vyavhar translates to business in Marathi and Konkani) and is a very straight-forward place - simple and hospitable without pretense.


The Krishna Mutt

The Krishna Mutt was established by Shri Madhawacharya in the 13th century. Since then, it has been a major centre of learning for the Vaishnavite sect. The main Mutt is surrounded by eight sub-Mutts which take turns in managing the main Mutt. We arrived at the Mutt darshan amid a slight drizzle. The inside of the Mutt was really beautiful, especially with the Diwali diyas lighted up on all available spaces.

The Krishna Mutt at Night
Ratha (Chariot) outside the Mutt

We again visited the Mutt on the next morning - this time the guys were supposed to enter without any clothes on the upper body. Apparently, before the daily Mahapooja, male devotees have to bare their upper body inside the Mutt. After the Mutt, we visited the other two old stone temples - Chandramouleshwar and Ananteshwar - next to it. It is worth mentioning that there was hardly any commotion in the premises of the Mutt and the temples as is typical of other temple towns. The atmosphere all around was of religious tranquility with the drizzle further adding to the beauty. The number of people here was a bit higher than the previous day.

 Early morning drizzle outside the Mutt

One of the eight sub-Mutts surrounding the main Mutt

A Chariot against the clouds


The Genesis Of The Masala Dosa

The rain had apparently picked up in the night. It was drizzling by the time I got up the next day. It was now time for the big one - breakfast at Mitra Samaj. Mitra Samaj is a small hotel on the Ratha Beedi (Car Street - a circular street outside the Mutt, called so because of the chariots procession follows this route) and is supposed to be the genesis of all the Udupi hotels that dot the various streets of India. The masala dosa (notably prepared without using without onion or garlic) and the filter coffee were a delight! Mitra Samaj remains closed on Wednesdays.


Rain, Street Strolls and Food

The plan was to cover some of the nearby places was dropped immediately due to the rains. This included the Kapu beach too - something which I wanted to cover. The immediate plan however was to find a place to have lunch - non veg, Udupi style. We left the hotel, walked up to the bus stand, then took a random street, then another in a bid to explore the other corner of the city and then two more streets later we were back at the Mutt. Overall 45 mins walking in circles. Bored, looked up on the internet for suggestions, and found a place on the other corner - the way that passed next to our hotel - and then walked up to it, again asking for directions. Another 15 mins and we were there. The place was called Thamboolam (Kannada word for 'pan'). The food was good, and just marginally different when compared to the typical Malvani cuisine.

Something existed here
T. R. E. E.

Then it was back to the hotel. Another walk. A bit of rest and then back for an evening stroll - window shopping this time. By 7pm it was time to try another of Udupi's specialties - Gadbad ice-cream, originally conceived at Diana's Cafe. Gadbad is essentially a mash-up of 3 types of ice-creams, jelly, fruits and dry-fruits stacked in a tall glass. Good fun!

 The Jamia Masjid against the twilight


 Random shrine on the road

Lanterns outside the Krishna Mutt

A walk to and from Diana's took about 45 mins. A light and early dinner at Woodland's restaurant followed after which it was time to unwind. A stroll along the Ratha Beedi, then back to the hotel and tucked in bed. The next day again followed a similar itinerary - breakfast at Mitra Samaj, darshan at the Mutt, stroll around the city and light lunch at Woodlands.


The Impressions

We had covered most of the city on foot in the forty odd hours we were there. The ambiance of the place is just lovely - laid back, relaxed and most importantly civilized! People followed the traffic lights and lane discipline, the buses halted in the correct demarcated areas, no road rage, no undue noise. Walking here was a pleasure indeed.

After all this it was time to bid this lovely place goodbye and head back to Mumbai.

The train station of Udupi
 View from the train ... goodbye!


© One Of The Road

Monday, 10 October 2016

Ujjain Simhast - An Experiential Experiment

The Experiment

As far as I know myself, I've never been excited for attending a major religious congregation of any kind. Frankly, I've never been excited to be anywhere close to places that expect massive throngs of people. I prefer the quiet and the calm almost as a rule. Despite all this, in the scorching heat of May, I found myself in the middle of a crowd of millions who had thronged by the banks of the Kshipra at Ujjain - a part of the Simhast Kumbh Mela, 2016.

 The flag flies high ...

A procession of tribal folk from Gujarat makes way through the crowd

I'm not sure why I accepted the invite - Shilpa, a traveler/photographer friend was traveling there - maybe, just maybe to let go and explore my limits unhindered. I'm not sure. All I know now is that for one and a half day I was part of something huge.


The Start Of Something ... En-masse

We arrived at Ujjain by lunch-time. The hordes of pilgrims were already streaming in along with us. The barricaded traffic and quick diversions set the tone for the seriousness of the entire affair from the administration standpoint. It was Saturday when we arrived. One of the Shahi-Snans was scheduled on Monday. The crowds would only swell by Monday dawn.

Ujjain on the map

The crowd lines the street ...
... the mat makes for a makeshift sunscreen 

A quick check-in and a simple (shoddy?) lunch later we were again among the masses as we entered the premises of the Mahakaleshwar Temple - the main shrine of Ujjain. The queues were streamlined ensuring a hassle-free darshan. We were out among the masses again.

The Mahakaleshwar Temple


The Kshipra

The Kshipra is the star of the Simhast - the river unto whose waters a dip would cleanse the soul. It would be wise to ignore the Narmada-Kshipra Interlink for the moment. Yeah.

The pontoon bridges span the river at intervals ...
... the fountains refresh the water

Well, all roads converged to her banks and all those who converged took a dip. The entire fountain-paddle-pump system used to keep the waters sanely flowing could not, in the end, entice me to take a dip. Sometimes, it is a bit difficult to let go.


The Akhadas Out Yonder

Crossing the river on the pontoon bridges took us to the side of the akhadas. The akhadas mostly had the revered naga-babas and their ardent followers sharing makeshift tents. The permanent akhadas (local) were directly at the river bank. The walk on this side brought out a side of faith quite unseen in a regular urban life. And it was ... unsettling.

The Dattatrey Akhada - massive and beautiful


The Evening On The Kshipra

The Kshipra, big-hearted as it is, did delight me as the last of the day's light faded out over the horizon and the Kshipra-aarti began. The spectacle took some time to start as the Kshipra readied herself - and then it was all brilliance.

The small bows and arrow-heads - not a concern

 The sun sets behind the western bank

 The aarti in full flow

The brilliance subsided in a while and was followed by the dispersal of a massively massive crowd.

Scenes after the aarti


Humanity On A Platter

As the night descended, a few more aspects of the Simhast emerged. Apart from the pilgrims and the administration, there was another substantial chunk of people in Ujjain - the locals. The throngs of people pouring in to the city had to be served and served well. The enterprising populace put out all efforts to cater to this demand. Some even stretched themselves to inhuman limits - a 36 hour workday unflinchingly manning a paratha stall would sum it up.

The deepmals of th Harsiddhi Temple ...
... we just missed the last of the diyas going off
And then there were some who would setup a kitchen to sell shoddy, overpriced stuff while passing a hand over their already bulging belly. Some hotels had opened up, obviously charging jacked up rates. This specie existed too.


View From The Media Box

Our Sunday morning was mostly spent in the empty media box overlooking the important Ram Ghat of the Kshipra as we watched pilgrims in much higher numbers do about the chores today. Another walk through the akhada zone followed, but even this section was crowded today. The river again provided some respite from the heat to us and the throngs that arrived on the banks.

 A curious sight - sadhu balancing a pot on his head

The Ram Ghat on early Sunday morning


Final Moments

I'd to leave by early evening to be able to return to Mumbai by Monday morning. As I was leaving the city, the only thing that I could see were the pilgrims heading in to the city. The road from Indore was lined up with a continuous stream of vehicles. The Shahi-Snan is the main attraction for many and is one of the holiest days for taking the dip.

Something from the Mahakaleshwar Temple

I left the holy congregation with a mixed feeling. I learnt some new things about myself which was good. Seeing the massive crowds around me move in a continuous wave sometimes makes one feel very inconsequential. Maybe we are, and maybe not.


The Shahi-Snan - Bonus!

Shilpa was to stay back for the next day too. Sharing some of her pics from the early morning Shahi-Snan. You can follow her photography and adventures on Instagram @ aspiritbedouin.


© One Of The Road

Saturday, 1 October 2016

The Majestic Sun Temple Of Modhera


The Solanki Dynasty of Gujarat has left behind a sample set of amazing architecture. The Rani Ki Vav of Patan has already made it to the World Heritage Site list. The Sun Temple of Modhera, artistically and in scale, is not far behind too. The monument has three sub-structures: the Kund (stepped-pond), the Sabhamandap (assembly-hall) and the Gudhamandap (sanctum). The structures are aligned in perfect symmetry in the east-west direction.

The view of the complex ...
... Kunda in the foreground, Sabhamandap follows
... the Gudhamandap can be seen through the Sabhamandap

The construction of this temple, located by the banks of the river Pushpavati, is attributed to King Bhimdev (1) Solanki from the early 11th century. The temple was damaged during the raids of Mahmud Ghazni. As of today, the temple is just a monument devoid of actual worship. A smaller, modern temple exists next to the Sabhamandap where the worship is now practiced.


The Kund

The Kund is the first structure that one sees after entering the complex gates. The structure is rectangular with stone steps leading down to the water level. The steps are punctuated regularly by shrines of various sizes dedicated to multiple gods pertaining to the Hindu mythos.

The Kund - steps and shrines can be seen

A pigeons takes shelter in a shrine of a goddess

The steps and shrines of the Kund

The Kund - as seen from the Sabhamandap


The Sabhamandap

The Sabhamandap is artistically the most intricate of the three main structures in the campus. The structure is approached via the western steps of the Kund, passing between two elaborate coloumns of an erstwhile Toran. The inner structure has ornate pillars with sculptures of amorous couples and divine beings. The Sabhamandap has free access from all four sides, with the eastern and western sides opening to the Kund and the Gudhamandap respectively.

The Sabhamandap - as seen from the Kund ... 
... pardon those tourists please
The Sabhamandap and the coloumns of the Toran

The intricacy of the Toran is spellbinding
The coloumns of the Toran as seen from the Sabhamandap ...
... the steps of the Kund are seen too
The ceiling of the Sabhamandap
The inner pillars of the Sabhamandap
The lower levels of the Sabhamandap - elephants offer their support
The Sabhamandap and the coloumns of the Toran as seen from the north


The Gudhamandap

The Gudhamandap used to be the main shrine at the complex. The structure is a bit longer than the Sabhamandap and internally divided into two sections: the outer hall and the inner sanctum. The inner sanctum is is surrounded by an ambulatory path. The sanctum is empty and hence sealed off. The ambulatory path is infested with bats - the stench will put you off from any misadventure anyway. Nonetheless, the structure is impressive.

The walls of the Gudhamanda - elephant and daily life motifs

The sculptures of the Gudhamandap

The ceiling of the Gudhamandap outer hall

The bats reign the ambulatory path

The Gudhamandap as seen from the south


The Extra Torans

The area near the main structures has another Toran pair of intricate coloumns and a small step-well. The Toran is probably the remains of a secondary shrine.

Equally artistic


Getting In

In order to visit Modhera, Mehsana is the closest rail and road head. Mehsana is well connected to Ahmedabad, Mumbai and Mount Abu in Rajasthan. One can easily cover Patan, Siddhpur and Vadnagar nearby.

Modhera on the map


Other Places in Gujarat

Ahmedabad || Adalaj || Patan

© One Of The Road