Thursday, November 21, 2013

Pleasure Pilgrimage - Part 1

Sidi Sayed Jhali

My wife has been asking me for a long time to plan a trip to West India, places where we could go with her sister Suganthi who lives in Mumbai.  I was not able to pay attention to this, and one fine day she just asked for the dates, saying her sister would do all the planning for the trip. She even suggested the period immediately following Diwali, as it suited her sister well, being holiday for the child and lean time for the husband.  Still unable to sit and draw a plan, I readily agreed for the dates and let Suganthi do the planning for the trip.  Time, as usual, waits for none and traversed its rapid course and suddenly there were reminders from Suganthi to book tickets immediately, as prices were going up by the day.  I didn’t realise it was only two weeks to go and hurriedly booked the tickets.  Thus started our trip to Gujarat and Rajasthan on Nov3, immediately after Diwali of 2013.

We went by air from Chennai to Mumbai.  The Spicejet flight was so empty I wondered why they had not cancelled it.  But then if they had, that would have put us in trouble.  So we happily landed in Mumbai on Sunday morning, quickly collected the luggage and with my co-brother Guruprasad and his daughter Shreya waiting to receive us at the airport, got to their home also pretty fast.  Our train to Ahmedabad was late in the night only, so we had a good rest after lunch and a little outing before departure.

Day 1 (Nov4)

We reached Ahmedabad early in the morning on Monday Nov4 and checked into Krios where our accommodation was booked.  This is a quiet, comfortable hotel only a little away from the centre of the city.  Suganthi had gathered information on places of interest through the internet.  Based on her input, the hotel manager had suggested a tour program, according to which we would cover Ahmedabad as much as possible on the first two days and then proceed to Udaipur.  What we did not know and were not informed was the fact that the entire Ahmedabad markets would be closed for the whole of the week. The ladies were disappointed because this cut heavily into their shopping plans, but they managed to put up a smile and continue with the tour, reserving shopping for the last day back again in Ahmedabad.

I realised the day starts rather late in Gujarat. On both the days, our taxi was asked to report only at eleven in the morning!  Therefore, after a relaxed bath and breakfast at Krios, we started our Gujarat tour with a visit to the Iskcon temple first, followed by visits to the Science City, Vaishno Devi temple, Adalaj Vav and Akshar Dham, in that order. Actually, the ladies wanted to see some shops or malls at least for window shopping on the way, but the driver insisted that it was not possible because of the long holiday. Another thing we did not anticipate and were not prepared for was the crowd.  This period being declared holiday, it looked like the whole of Gujarat, Rajasthan and even part of Mumbai had descended on Ahmedabad.  All the places of worship and sightseeing were flooded by visitors, and added to the time we were expected to spend at each point. 

The Iskcon temple, though crowded, offered moving space inside.   Though photography was not allowed inside the temple (it is allowed outside), I saw several visitors clicking merrily and asked the person next to me in the queue about this and learnt that since it was their New Year, they were being not very strict about the rules.  Tempted, I also took the camera out snapped the idols of Sri Rama-Sita-Lakshman-Hanuman.  We tasted a couple of native Gujarat snacks being sold outside the temple, and proceeded to Vaishno Devi temple.  However, seeing the long queue waiting at the Vaishno Devi temple, we skipped it and decided to make it Adalaj Vav.

Iskcon temple  Iskcon temple

The Adalaj Vav, or stepwell, has an interesting story with a sad ending.  I quote from Wikipedia: Its construction was started by Rana Veer Singh of the Vaghela dynasty of Dandai Desh. But he was killed in a war, wherefater the Muslim king Mahmud Begada of a neighbouring state built it in Indo-Islamic architectural style, in 1499.  The cultural and architectural depiction in the deep wells at various levels are a tribute to the history of step wells, built initially by Hindus and subsequently ornamented and blended with Islamic architecture during the Muslim rule.

As per legend, Rana Veer Singh’s widow, a beautiful lady known by the name Rani Roopba, though in deep grief at the death of her husband, agreed to a marriage proposal made by Mahmud Begada on the condition that he would first complete the building of the stepwell. The Muslim king who was deeply enamoured of the queen’s beauty agreed to the proposal and built the well in record time. Once the well was completed, Begda reminded the queen of her promise to marry him. instead the queen who had achieved her objective of completing the stepwell started by her husband, decided to end her life, as mark of devotion to her husband. She circumambulated the stepwell with prayers and jumped into the well, ending the saga of building the well in tragedy. These events are depicted on the walls of the well. Begda however allowed the well to remain without any defacing.

Again, because of the crowd, I could not devote much time to photography, and managed a few shots here. In hindsight, I feel I should have stayed a little longer and shot snaps depicting the multi-storeyed structure of this well too.  A few photos to share:

Adalaj vav  Adalaj vav  Adalaj vav

I just could not believe the crowd at Akshardham. Akshardham in Gandhinagar, comprises of a vast complex of gardens, museum, exhibition, light-show and children’s play area, all built around a beautiful central building housing a huge idol of Guru Swaminarayan.  Unfortunately, after a terrorist attack in 2002, the place is very heavily guarded and carrying of cameras and mobile phones is not allowed.  Therefore, I am not able to present my photos here.   However, I must say that the building, built of sandstone, is captivating at first look, and made me think the builders wanted to create something like a Taj Mahal here – same type of big, symmetric, high-raised building with a long stretch of garden with fountains in front.  The comparison stops here.

The mad crowd made us wait for hours for everything,  At 5.30 p.m., the tickets for the 6.30 laser show were sold out and only the next show at 7.30 p.m. was available!  Having come all the way, we had no other go and had to wait and watch, but the show was certainly worth the wait.  The story of Nachiketh was beautifully enacted with real-time actors and interesting mix of fountains, water-screen and laser beams.  Shreya coped well with us, though there was not much entertainment for her age at these places.

On the way back, we had dinner at .., and returned to Krios for a good night’s sleep.

Day 2 (Nov5)

Vasanthi is ever so happy not to be woken up in the morning, and she was pleased to have a late start like this.  More happiness was in store, as the second day started  with shopping, for the Handicrafts Bhavan was open despite holidays and both the sisters spent quite some time in the shop.  Guru and I kept Shreya engaged (could be the other way too) with small games while they were shopping.  On this day, we covered the Hutheesing Jain temple, built in 1848 and housing the marble image of the 15th Tirtankara, Dharmanatha.  Though the temple contains excellent marble work and beautiful inner corridors on three sides, photography, again, is not allowed and hence I had to content with just having a good look at them.

Hutheesing Jain Temple  Hutheesing Jain Temple  Hutheesing Jain Temple

We tried Gujarati Thali at Gopi’s, which was our driver Narendra’s choice.  More about him later. From there we proceeded to Sabarmati Ashram, where Gandhiji spent a good portion of his life.  We took a leisurely stroll through the various photo-galleries and the house where he and Ba lived, including demonstration of the charka or the spinning wheel, at which Gandhiji was very adept.  While the place evokes a feeling of patriotism and respect for the great man he was, I still feel it could be better maintained, particularly the toilets.  When Gandhiji himself did not mind cleaning toilets, it is a pity that toilets in this memorial are not maintained properly even though paid housekeeping staff is employed in good numbers here.

Sabarmati Ashram  Sabarmati Ashram  Squirrel

With the evening sprawling before us and no shopping not on the agenda, we were wondering where to go and one of the places that came to mind was the Kakaria lake.  Though not intimidated, I was certainly taken aback by the mad crowd thronging this place.  The platform on the banks of the lake was jam-packed with all sort of people – locals and outsiders, tourists like us, vendors, individuals and groups, loners and families, groups of boys, groups of girls – it was like a carnival was taking place.  Probably it was! I forgot it was New Year season in this part of India and people were just enjoying outing and mingling with the crowd.  Two toy trains were alternately chugging around the lake, but we were a little late for the day and there was such a long waiting for the train.  Moreover, as it was getting dark, the train service was being suspended for the day, and so we could not put Shreya on one of the trains though she badly wanted to get on one.   Guru pacified her in his own way and we went back to our hotel.
Kakaria Lake

Day 3 (Nov 6)

We left a little early today, because from this day it was outstation trip and we had to cover quite a few places over long distances.  As we were any way scheduled to be back in Ahmedbad for a night’s stay before our departure to home, we kept some luggage back at the store room in Krios and took only what was required for the ensuing trip.

On the way to Udaipur, we were advised to visit the Shamalji temple.  Suganthi using her mobile internet to see if anything more was possible, kept coming up with a few names here and there.  But our driver negatived most of them, saying either we had already crossed the place, or it meant a deep detour from the main road.  Soon we reached Shamalji and I saw a small temple with quite a crowd, and a Shiva statue atop a hillock behind the temple and asked the driver to go and park as near as possible. Only when we went near did we realise it was not the Shamalji temple, but another temple dedicated to Vishwakarma, and a local event was on drawing the crowd we saw.  We soon left the place and now the driver took us to the real Shamalji temple.

Oh my God, what a beautiful temple it is!  This is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. We were again upset on seeing the huge crowd that was waiting to have darshan, but once we saw that the it was closing time and the temple authorities were clearing the queue pretty fast, we joined the line.  That proved to be a good decision, because the Lord inside was such a beautiful, magnificent idol, adorned with glittering jewellery and colourful garlands.  It was a sight to behold.  We came out of the temple (rather, gently pushed out) and I started to take photos of the temple from outside.  It was then I noticed the extra-ordinary and intricate carvings on all sides of the exterior of the temple. I was so stumped and awe-struck by the beauty and depth of the carvings that I spent the next 20 minutes clicking away the entire stretch of sculptures on all three sides of the temple, except the front, which still remained obstructed by the departing crowd.

Tired of clicking in the sun, we walked our way back to the parking lot and had an excellent cup of tea prepared by an ex-serviceman who had set up a stall there.  On chatting, we came to know that he had served in the Avadi defence area, and knew Ambattur to some extent.  On the way out, I was, as usual, attracted by vendors selling jujube and the pani-phal.  See the snaps.

Shamalji Vishnu Temple  Shamalji Vishnu Temple  Jujube vendor

The next place on the itinerary was the Rishabdev temple.  I had thought it would be an abode of Lord Shiva (because of his vehicle Rishab), but it turned out to be a Jain temple!  I realised why it is important for people to get to know beforehand some information about the places they are going to visit, but it is also true that sometimes it is more interesting when you get to see something about which you do not know anything at all!  It was in this temple that I came to know about the practice of auctioning the opportunity to perform Aarthi or other kinds of worship in Jain temples, which was unheard of and something totally new to me.  I discussed this with a Jain girl Niyati who was travelling with me on the flight from Ahmedabad, and she explained the procedure, quickly adding she was not in agreement with the custom!  I told her not to feel bad about it, every religion has some customs, traditions and practices that must have been instituted by forefathers for some purpose and that it is better to continue these as long as they don’t harm anyone.

We bought some fruits on the way out of Rishabdev temple, and proceeded to Udaipur.  We encountered the same problem on reaching Udaipur – entire crowd from Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra had come there and we found that in view of severe vehicle congestion, many of the narrow, interior roads blocked by traffic police.  Because of the busy season, we were also not able to get any of the good hotels and Suganthi said she had to grab the accommodation available at whatever reasonably good hotel she was able to get.  She had booked rooms at a hotel named Anjani, which was situated in Gangaur Ghat Road, but the police did not allow our vehicle anywhere near the hotel.  The hotel people gave us directions to come as near to the hotel as possible, and from that place they arranged for the luggage to be transported by their boys, and provided an auto-rickshaw for us to reach the hotel.

The approach to the hotel was awful – narrow lanes, open drainage flowing on one side of the road, etc.  We had to climb on steep slope even to reach the reception.  They call it a ‘heritage hotel’.  I think it is because it is nothing but an old dwelling place of some palace guy converted into rented rooms with all modern fittings – attached bath, running hot water, etc.   However, once you get in, it was more acceptable, and they even had Wi-Fi functioning on the ground floor!  After checking in and refreshing a while, we took some guidance from the hotel staff and as per their advice, went to see the folk dance that was happening nearby in one of the annexures of the palace.  However, on reaching the place, we were told that not only was it running full without even standing space, but were also discouraged on the ground that the old building could not take more weight.  Disappointed, we decided to do some sight-seeing and shopping.  After crossing the bridge and viewing the palace from the other side of the lake, we took advice from local people as to where we could get good vegetarian food, and as per their advice, took dinner at Bawarchi, which was good.  They were kind enough not to charge for the kid and gave an extra plate to share our meals with her!  All this local commuting was on local auto-rickshaws, as our car was not allowed to ply on many of the roads, and the driver had completely disappeared from our view for rest for the day!  Back at the hotel, Vasanthi liked the tinted-glass windows very much, and I liked the painted glass lampshade, so I took shots of both before going to bed.
Lake by night    Anjani  Lampshade in Anjani

Pleasure Pilgrimage - Part 2

Udaipur Palace

Day 4 (Nov 7)

We got up quite early the next morning. As they had the kid Shreya with them, we wanted to give Suganthi and Guru some extra time for them to freshen up in the morning, and we alone headed up for the Jagdish temple within five minutes of the hotel. My ignorance was at play once again.  I had thought Jagdish to mean Shiva, but on reaching the temple I found it to be Lord Krishna’s temple.  A little browsing beforehand would have kept me aware.  The temple boasted of majestic marble construction with typical North Indian architecture, and I was happy to start the day with holy prasad from Lord Krishna’s temple.

Jagdishji Temple  Udaipur Palace  Shreya

We had our breakfast at Anna’s restaurant nearby and headed for the Palace Museum, at walkable distance.  We were advised to finish boating first in view of the surging crowd, and heeded the advice.  They charge a hefty Rs.340 fee for the boating, and take you floating around the palace in the middle and then to the garden restaurant on the other side for a brief break.  You can spend as much time as you want there and return by any other boat.  We enjoyed the boat ride, and headed for the museum (Rs.115 for the entry ticket), only to be put off by the unmanageable holiday crowd thronging to see the palace.  Because of the crowd, I could not enjoy the palace visit much, as I generally like seeing places like this at leisure, with enough time to compose shots the way I want.  This day offered no scope for me, and I had to endure the crowd and push my way out as quickly as possible.  I did manage some shots, though, and am sharing a few here.

Guru and I went back to the same Anna’s restaurant for a quick lunch, as the ladies wanted some shopping near the palace entrance.  After lunch, we contacted the driver over phone and asked him to take us around, for which his usual reply was ready – all roads are closed, you need to walk wherever you want to go. We forced him to heed our words and asked him to take us to the Sajjangarh Fort.  He was reluctant at first, but sensing our mood, relented from his tough stance and took us there, only to see the gate closed.  Fortunately for us, the family of a senior police official had also come wanting to see the place at the same time, and the authorities, while opening the gate for them, allowed all the remaining visitors too.  The fort was an enjoyable place, and the view of the folding mountains from the top on one side, and the Udaipur lake and city on the other side was breath-taking.  We spent a while there and returned to the city, and spent some time shopping at the Hathipol market, and dinner at a restaurant near Bawarchi in Surajpol.  After a day well spent, we returned to the hotel.  As we had to check out very early the next morning, we settled the accounts then itself and retired to bed.

Udaipur Lake  Udaipur Lake Garden  View of Lake from Sajjangarh Fort

Day 5 (Nov 8)

Surprisingly, all of us were ready on the dot at 4 a.m. to leave for Nathdwara, abode of Lord Vishnu in the name of Shrinath.  We were advised that it would be very, very crowded during the holiday season, as this temple is considered to be the equivalent of Shri Balaji temple in Tirumala for devotees in the North and West of India, and therefore it would be prudent to make it there as early as possible.   Fortunately, the road restrictions did not apply at this early hour and the driver was able to position our car right at the entrance to the hotel.  We took off immediately through the narrow lanes. Our driver wanted to enquire the route and we were surprised to see a mobile tea vendor ready to start business at that hour!  He had set up all the paraphernalia – stove, milk, water, glasses, etc. on his cart and was only too happy to take our order.  It was nice to even think of getting a hot cup of tea in the cold openness.  When the vendor brought two cups of tea towards me sitting in the car across the road, I eagerly got out of the car to take the tea.  To my surprise, he poured both the cups of tea on the road and went back to his cart!  Then Guru told me it was the custom in this part of the country to offer the first lot to Mother Earth and then only start business!  Seeing us enjoying the early morning tea, Shreya also wanted a cup.  The vendor obliged, but refused to take money for her cup of tea, saying “aapka beti hamaara beti hain”(your child is my child too)!  We were touched by his kindness, and left for Nathdwara.

It was dark and the road was pretty empty all through except at one place where we saw several vehicles including buses parked and a number of pilgrims walking on the road.  We sped fast, trying to make it to Nathdwara on time.   However, it took us a little longer than anticipated, and we reached the place around 6.30 a.m.  Already, many vehicles were parked.  Our driver asked us get down and showed the way to the temple.  Pilgrims were actually running to get an early darshan of the Lord.   We proceeded at our own pace, even halting to have another cup of hot mint-flavoured tea on the way.  It was interesting to watch the tea-vendor prepare the tea, and I have now learnt the recipe too.  When we got into the temple, we found that the curtains were drawn for a brief while and were informed that darshan would re-commence at 7.30.  We should have probably skipped both the tea halts.  Anyway, we were among the first to wait for the 7.30 darshan, and had a good darshan when the doors opened a little late, around 7.50.  By then, enormous crowd had gathered, and  I realised it was good that the Krios manager had alerted us about this.  We had not-so-good a breakfast at a roadside restaurant and continued our journey.

One of the places suggested in the itinerary was Eklingji temple and we asked the driver to go there.  He told us we just crossed the place on our way to Nathdwara, and the way to our next stop, Kumbalgarh Fort, was in the other direction!  We now realised that it was Eklingji we passed early in the morning.  This time, we really got worked up and asked the driver to take us there unmindful of the distance or time or route involved.  Seeing our frustration, he had to obey and we went back almost half the way back to Udaipur to reach Eklingji temple.  The idol of Shiva in the Linga form but with a decoration of human face in front is very unique here.  For some reason, I found half of the temple was blockaded and we could not circumambulate the main shrine.   On enquiry, we were informed that the blockade would be lifted only on the Mahashivratri day when devotees would be allowed to go around the entire temple compex.

There was a saas-bahu temple nearby,  so named not because they held deities related as saas-bahu, but because it was built by saas-bahu (mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law)!  As we were already running circuitous and late, we decided to skip this temple, though I didn’t skip the temptingly hot and fresh chilli-bajji being prepared in the tea stall across the road.  After collecting our bags (cameras and mobiles not allowed in this temple also), we left for Kumbalgarh fort.

Nathdwara Charbuja Custard apples

It was a long trip, through a place called Charbuja, known for its Vishnu temple.  At the junction on the main road, we found a group of local vendors selling custard apple.  They were so fresh, just plucked and packed in sacks and kept on roadside ready for sale to passers-by.   When we selected about seven or eight ripe fruits for eating then itself and asked for the price, the woman could not come up with a price and just kept smiling.  On persuasion, she quoted a princely sum of Rs.15 for the lot!  My wife took out two crisp 10-rupee notes and gave to her.  The vendor woman didn’t have small change and gave three more fruits in return!  We ate two or three delicious fruits then itself in the car.  The deviation from the main road lead us into seemingly uninhabited countryside.  The only assurance was the stretch of well laid motorable road.  We wound our way through miles and miles of loneliness in ups and downs of mountainside engulfed by dense growth of all kinds of trees on both sides, especially custard apple trees.  Finally we reached Charbuja, which suddenly out of the emptiness, was well populated with a number of vehicles also present on the road.  We had to walk for 10-15 minutes to reach the temple, and we made it, chatting and eating the custard apples on the way.  The well-stocked vegetable shops on both sides of the road looked quite out of place for a small town like this.


The temple here is on a raised  level of about 10 stairs, flanked by life-size statues of grey painted elephants on both sides.  The temple priest told us though it looks recent, the temple is very ancient, installed and worshipped by Pandavas more than five thousand years ago and has been re-built several times since then.  After darshan we walked our way back to the main road, and continued our travel towards the Kumbalgarh Fort.

Even more winding roads and uneven terrain greeted us all the way.  Both the weather and the scenery were so enjoyable during the drive, good roads adding to our enjoyment.  After a long time, we reached a T-junction from where Kumbalgarh Fort was just about 20 km away.  We could see a lot of traffic on this route, and as we neared the fort, we were asked to stop and park the car well before the entrance gate, as the place was (again) crowded and there was no parking space inside!  By the time we got into the fort, we were a little tired and hungry and had to first look for food.  There was too much crowd at the restaurant in front, and the waiters had completely lost their patience.  Unable to bear their temperament, we walked away and found another restaurant a little away, where people were more polite and there was less crowd too.  But, to our disappointment, only limited variety of food was available here – only Alu-paratha and Maggie noodles, but they were in huge proportion and good too, completely filling our hungry stomach.  Suganthi, Vasanthi and Shreya were too tired and did not show any interest in climbing up to see the fort.  I requested Guru to accompany me and he obliged.  It was worth the climb and the fort offered a breath-taking view of the surrounding areas.  I clicked sunset to my heart’s content and got down, in time to leave for our next stop Panwapuri.

Kumbalgarh Kumbalgarh Kumbalgarh

There was a question mark on the accommodation at Panwapuri (also called Pavapuri here). Panwapuri is a sacred pilgrimage place for Jains, and we were told though accommodation at Dharamshalas would be available, we wouldn’t get anything to eat beyond 6 p.m.  As per plan, we were to arrive here by 5.30, but from the morning we were gradually getting delayed further and further.  With an estimated arrival time of 10 p.m. we worried whether they would even let us in if we go too late, and whether accommodation would be available at all.  Somewhere, as we were nearing 9 p.m., and though Panwapuri was just about 25 to 30 km away, it suddenly looked prudent to halt at any town large enough to have a good hotel, and seek accommodation there, though it would mean spending much more compared to what would be payable at the Dharamshala.  GPS showed Sirohi was just around the corner, and the driver also vouched we could certainly find accommodation there.  Soon we reached Sirohi and as guessed, we saw a big restaurant named Baba Ramdev, and a decent, modern hotel also behind the restaurant, the restaurant being the front for the hotel by the same name.  We decided to rent rooms and stay there.  Much to our comfort, the rooms were neat and comfortable.  Within these few days, I had got into the habit of having a hot cup of tea before going to bed, and did the same here too.

Pleasure Pilgrimage - Part 3

Jain Tirth

Day 6 (Nov 9)

Waking up leisurely, we enjoyed the cold morning and hot tea as usual, freshened up quickly and had breakfast, before leaving for Panwapuri,  at the big roadside restaurant we saw the previous night.   Though I liked and always had alu-paratha for breakfast, I also found it was different at each place – in size, in thickness and in taste too.   I liked to soft one served here.  After breakfast, we left for the Jain Tirth at Panwapuri.  This is an impressive complex of two temples - one for Shree Shankheshwar Parshwanath and one for Shree Sachiya Matha, an art gallery and a Goshala nearby.  Though I did not understand the Jain way of worship, the stone/marble architecture of the temples is definitely something to be seen and I was glad they allowed people of other faith too.  I was also glad that Panwapuri was so away from the regular tourist routes, and therefore we were relieved to feel the absence of the holiday crowd.  Because of the large area of the complex, they offer battery operated (non-polluting) vehicles as well as horse-drawn carts to go around.   Once you get the ticket, you can get off at any point and catch another vehicle to the next point. 

The Goshala they maintain is impressive.  Hundreds of cows are maintained well here.  Pilgrims are encouraged to buy quantities of jaggery or a mix of sweetened sesame-fodder mix to feed to the cows.  Addicted to the taste, the cows vie one another to come to the fore to take the feed from you, and it is so pleasant to both watch and feed the cows. There is also a separate enclosure where new-born calves and mother cows are kept.  We saw people feeding milk to the calves with feeding bottles!  In all, it was a good time we spent here.  Shreya was thrilled to see so many cows at a go, and was playing all around the vast complex of temples and Goshala.  It is a pity photography is restricted in most of the temples.

Jain Tirth Goshala

After visiting the temples, we went back to the hotel at Sirohi for a brief rest, and left for Mount Abu.  Since Mt Abu is the only hill resort for the people of Gujarat, Rajasthan and bordering Maharashtra, I cannot complain about the huge crowd I saw here.  Moreover, during these days, I had got used to it also!  Hence, on reaching Mt Abu, we were concentrating only on finding accommodation and sight-seeing.  We found a decent and comfortable family room in Hotel Ranjana, dumped all our luggage and after a quick freshening up, headed straight to the Arbuda restaurant for lunch. 

On the way itself we could see every tourist spot jammed with people and vehicles, and our driver happily got back to his favourite routine of denying our instructions, saying ‘rastha bandh hogayna?’.  Which was true also, the police had cordoned off many roads.  Popular tourist spots like honeymoon point involved parking the vehicle somewhere on the main road and walking about a kilometer to reach the spot.  We had to act smart and devise plans to thwart his excuses, and instructed him to go around Mt Abu wherever they allow vehicles to go.  Having come at the peak season, we had to compromise by missing a few spots here and there, but were determined to stick to the major attractions and asked the driver to take us to the Delwara temple complex.  Though he initially mumbled it would be closed, he took us first to the Brahmakumaris’ Head Office, their museum and then to the Delwara complex, which was open from 12 noon to 6 p.m.

I was simply not prepared for what I was going to see in these 12th century Jain temples.  This complex houses one of the most magnificent and intricate marble carvings I have ever seen in my life.  I have seen intricate carving of marble in small idols and statues of ornamental use in many places such as temples, museums, exhibitions and emporiums.  But the details they have done on the dome of ceilings inside these temples, and the pillars supporting the domes, is unbelievable and really, really breath-taking.  I am told there are other Jain temples like the one in Bhilwara with the same or better architectural splendour and intricacy, but since I have not seen them, I was overwhelmed by the work I saw here.  I can tell you here, the Taj Mahal is great for its size and grandeur, but if you look at the devotion to design and detail, this place beats the Taj by leaps and bounds.  This is one place I really felt sad and angry that they do not allow photography.  I am sure people would be willing pay even a thousand rupees as camera-fee to get to capture the wonderful patterns on the pillars, walls and ceilings of this complex.  I had to leave the place with a heavy heart for not being able to record the extra-ordinary marble carving I saw here and wanted to share with the world. We left the temple at the closure time, and headed to the lake front to give some breathing time for the ladies (I mean shopping).  Guru and Shreya headed to the hotel for the night’s rest, and I gave company to Vasanthi and Suganthi who continued their shopping at the Chacha museum (museum-like shop, as claimed by them!).  In view of the late lunch, we skipped dinner but had hot-hot masala badam-milk which was so enjoyable in the cold weather of Mt Abu. 

Horse ride Mint-Lemon fizz

Day 7 (Nov 10)

Being the early bird that I am (at least in my family), I was ready well before others.  The chirping birds were inviting me to join them and I and used the free time to go for a walk around the large ground in front of the hotel.  This was the first time I ever saw the barbet, so camouflaged he was in the bushes.  I also saw a few other birds which I have seen earlier but have not had the opportunity to photograph – such as the yellow chested bulbul and the black-and-brown bird sitting high on the branch of the tall tree.  Parrots are to be found aplenty here, and I was also impressed to see the local people’s gesture of hanging trays or pots of birdseed in their garden, expressing their love of nature in a most effective manner.

Once the family was ready, we took a walk to the nearby Rajasthani exhibition.  Shreya was long asking for a horse-ride and opportunity knocked on her door this morning.  Though initially afraid, she enjoyed a pretty long ride on the horseback.  Guru and I enjoyed the pudina-lemon-soda mix, a new concoction I tasted for the first time.  We had breakfast, a slightly heavy one, at the Sankalp restaurant, a favourite jaunt of Guru and Suganthi in Mumbai.

Post-breakfast, we asked the driver to take us to Achalgarh fort.  When we reached there, we found tourists around a Jain temple and a Shiva temple, and the popular three-buffalos statues.  The fort was up atop a hillock and so others were not willing to make the climb.  We had to content with these three spots and a little shopping.  The fresh guava and cucumber quenched our thirst.  By now, we had almost had a full week of sight-seeing, pilgrimage and travelling, and were ready to head home.  With no more energy to muster to instruct the driver anything against his plans, we asked him to drive straight to Ahmedabad, with only the popular Ambaji temple to visit en route.  This again was a very scenic route, and I did miss a few beautiful spots of nature photography because we were driving too fast and by the time I realised it was a spot worth clicking, we had already crossed it.

The few hours of quiet travelling in the car gave some energy back and we were ready to instruct the driver again, and this time we asked him to just take us around the Satellite Road, at least to see if any shop was open because we could not see any open shop the first two days we were in Ahmedabad.  We were hungry and looked for pure Gujarati food, and looked even in newly opened shopping malls.  The locals directed us to a place called ‘Pakvan’ and when we reached the place it suddenly dawned on the driver that he knew this place!  We all had a good go at the authentic Gujarati food that was offered – Moong halwa, Basundi, sweetish Khadi, variety of side dishes for roti, all were good.   The trip more or less completed, we retired to sleep at Krios.

Three buffalos Achalgarh Jain Temple

Day 8 (Nov 11)

How can the trip get completed without shopping at the famous cloth market in Ahmedabad?  Guru and Suganthi had to visit their relative on that morning and so it was left to Vasanthi and me to find out if anything good was available in the cloth market.  We went to the new cloth market and found that they had nothing but bales and bales of raw cloth to buy at wholesale rates.  Only one or two shops had what we wanted – sarees, churidhars, etc.  However, the shopkeepers were polite and kind enough to direct us to the Panchkuva retail market.  Vasanthi did elaborate shopping here, and remarked that the market was really good.  Suganthi soon joined and together they made some more purchases, putting a happy full stop to the trip.  From the market we went straight to the station for them to board the train to Mumbai, and I left for the airport to take the flight to Chennai.

Summing up, I would say this was a very good trip, because we have not been here before and got to see interesting places.  The company of Guru’s family gave us more pleasure and fun, and with Shreya around, killing boredom, if there was any, was so easy.   Our stay was comfortable at all the hotels through the trip, the food was good all through, we did not have any major setback in the trip or stay or health, and everything went more or less according to the plan.  All we wanted was a good time together and plenty of sight-seeing, which was more than achieved.   The itinerary given by Krios helped us to see some places not normally covered by tourists.  Barring his attitude, the driver was excellent in his driving skills and we did not feel tired of travel.  We might have missed a few places en route, but the point is we were not bent on covering those places either, so it is not a loss.  Like Lao Tzu said, a good traveller has no fixed plan and is not intent on arriving.  I might add that Tzu’s definition of traveller makes him (the traveller, not Tzu) more of a wanderer, and what differentiates us from wanderers is that our responsibilities require us to get back to our duties and fixed routine, until the next break.

After such a hectic trip, do I look forward to the next trip?  Certainly yes, but not immediately!