Saturday, December 4, 2010

Sights of Trichy - Part 2



My aunt was so excited to welcome us at her home after almost 3 years and so prepared a special brunch for us. Her apartment is in a small street in the Rockfort area and as soon as we arrived she served us some freshly squeezed lemon juice (much needed in the heat!!!).



She had also prepared a wonderful brunch for us - dosai, tomato/onion chutney and kesari... yum yum!


After the delicious brunch, we went for a walk in the area and again stopped for some drinks.



My cousin picked us up and brought us to his three year old son's school to pick him up. As soon as his son saw us from the class, he tried to run away although the class had not even finished! Within 5 minutes though, the kids were allowed to leave and the little boy, Sreesh, was so excited to be out!



We then drove to Kallanai, an ancient dam built on the Cauvery river by a Chola king. It dates back to the 1st Century AD. It is about 329 metres long and 20 metres wide. Some people bathe in the dam when it is not considered safe and there have been many deaths reported.



The drive to Kallanai was very lovely. Beautiful green landscape with lots of banana plantations, paddy fields and coconut trees. It was also nice to be away from the city noise and just enjoy the peace and quiet of this place.





As it was a hot day, what else better to do than to fool around and drink some fresh coconut milk!!!





All in all, we had a lovely and relaxing day with great food, company and nature...Next up is Srirangam!
Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Rendezvous with the Superstar

David had never been to a movie theater in India and insisted that this time he wanted to watch a movie in one. I had told him lots about the high energy, enthusiasm and sometimes even craziness of the fans and he wanted to experience this.

In India, when you are a very successful actor, fans do anything and everything for you. There are many times when hardcore fans build temples for their favorite actors, do rituals for them similar to those done for God, whistle and scream in movie theaters, etc. You get the picture.

Rajinikanth is probably the most popular actor is India and has an amazing fan following that is unmatched. Everytime a Rajinikanth movie releases, fans go crazy in the streets, create life size models or posters of him, do prayers for him and the list goes on. This time, with the release of Endhiran, a Rajinikanth-Aishwarya Rai starrer, fans went above and beyond for the movie. There were many news reports about the extent the fans went to for their favorite hero. The movie is a major blockbuster and is still running strong.



I thought this would be a great opportunity for David to discover the true Indian movie theater experience and so my mom made arrangements for us, my aunt and cousin's family to watch the movie the day we arrived. I was worried that since it was a Rajinikanth movie, we wouldn't be able to get tickets easily but my cousin assured me that since it had already released a month ago, there wouldn't be that much of a crowd. We nonetheless planned to get there early to avoid any long queues. My cousin offered to take David on his motorbike and David was only too thrilled to join him! My mom and I made our way to the movie theater by auto and waited for the rest to turn up. While waiting, we took some photos:).



The ticket counter only opened at a certain time and as soon as it did, we made it to the front. There are second class seats at 80 Rupees and first class ones at 100 Rupees and we got the first class tickets.

We got inside and watched people quickly filling up the empty seats. Still, the theater was not all that crowded. Then came the movie and all the robot sci-fi action and at some points, some fans whistled. I was a bit disappointed though that the excitement had died down as the movie had already been running more a month or so...



We thoroughly enjoyed the movie and my cousin's son, Sreesh, was also excited as it was first first movie excursion. After the movie, we went back to Srirangam to order dosai and eat it in our house there.





It was a lovely family outing and I hope to see another Rajinikanth movie in India again!
Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sights of Trichy - Part One

Trichy is one of my favorite places in India. It is here that my brothers and I spent many of our summer holidays and hung out with our cousins. My grandfather used to live in Trichy for many years and there are still many of my maternal relatives who live there.

Trichy is a city that is neither too big nor too small. It is just about the right size and offers so many interesting places to see and visit. The site that is most recognizable is the Rockfort Temple which is the icon of Trichy. Then there are other very famous sites as Sri Ranganatha Swamy temple, Thiruvaanaikaaval temple, Chinna Kadai Theru and Kallanai.

The first place I wanted to go to was the Rockfort Temple. I have always had wonderful memories of this temple. Every morning, the temple elephant, Lakshmi, walks to the temple and stays there throughout the day. Devotees offer coins and bananas to Lakshmi and receive blessings in return. I was so excited to see Lakshmi after a long time (I have known her since she was just 2!) and now she's almost 20. This time, we saw Lakshmi being fed with boiled rice and see how she is served!



The history behind the Rockfort Temple goes like this: In Ramayana, the demon king, Ravana, is defeated by Lord Rama. Rama is aided by Ravana's good and honest brother, Vibishana. As a token of appreciation, Rama gifts a statue of Sri Ranganatha deity (Vishnu) to Vibishana. The Devas (angels) were not happy with this as Vibishana was a demon by birth and they did not want the Vishnu statue to reach his kingdom. They sought the help of Ganesha and came up with a plan to prevent Vibishana from taking the Vishnu Statue to Lanka (present day Sri Lanka). Vibishana traveled through Trichy and stopped at the Cauvery river for a bath. He was however aware that once the statue is left on the land, it can never be moved again. He tried to find someone to hold the statue for him while he bathed and came across Ganesha disguised a young cowherd. According to the plan devised by the Devas, the cowherd set the statue firmly on the sand on the banks of Cauvery river. Vibishana saw and got enraged. The cowherd started running away from him and climbed over some rocks and sat on the top. Vibishana arrived and hits him on the head after which the boy revealed himself as Ganesha. Vibishana then apologized and asked that Ganesha bless all those who climb the rocks to see Him . There is therefore a small temple on top of the rocks and devotees have to climb about 400 steps to get there.

My mom, David and I went there in the early morning, when it was least crowded and made our way steadily up to the top. First we washed our legs and then stopped along the way up to take photos of the temple architecture and decoration.





We finally reached the top, prayed to Ganesha and then hung around for a while to enjoy the peace and take in the phenomenal panoramic view of Trichy.







We then walked down the rocks and stopped to pray at the Thaayumaana Swami Temple. This temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. There was a young lady in labor and she was suffering in pain. Her mother was delayed and could not arrive in time to help her. Lord Shiva then took the form of the young lady's mother and helped her with the delivery. Thaayumaana Swami translates as the Lord who became a mother.



After that, we strolled along the streets of Trichy including the famous Chinna Kadai Theru which was busy, colorful and full of people buying clothes, fruits and fireworks for the Deepavali festivities.







Look at all these beautiful flowers, fruits and vegetables!





Keep reading for more interesting information about other famous sites in Trichy!
Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Rockfort Express

Upon arriving in Chennai, we had lunch with my dad and brother (whom I hadn't seen in more than a year!) and did some shopping. We also quickly met up with some relatives and it was nice seeing them after almost 3 years. David and I were then scheduled to take the 10.30pm Rockfort Express overnight train to Trichy where my mom and cousin would be welcoming us.

Traveling by train in India is truly a unique and unforgettable experience. Indian Railways is one of the world's largest employers and transports millions of passengers to almost 7,000 stations all over the country. The trains have a character of their own and the train stations are always bustling with large numbers of passengers, shouting vendors, porters and shops. It is indeed quite a sight!

The Rockfort Express is a very popular overnight train that connects Chennai and Trichy and operates daily. It originated in Trichy and is named after the Rockfort Temple in the city. The train covers the journey between the two cities in about 6-7 hours and therefore passengers should prepare themselves for a good night's sleep. There are various coach categories to choose from: A/C First Class, A/C 2-Tier, First Class, A/C 3-tier, Second class sleeper and General compartments. As the train almost always runs full, it is advisable to book tickets in your preferred category in advance. The Indian Railways website has detailed information about the train schedules and intermediate stops. Our tickets were purchased on the Make My Trip website, which we found very convenient.

The train departs from Chennai Egmore station and goes all the way down to Kumbakonam. Most passengers' final destination is Trichy where they can alight at Srirangam, Tiruchirapalli Town or Tiruchirapalli Junction. We were booked in the A/C 2-Tier category and our final destination was Srirangam.

The train usually departs on time but this time there was a 15 minute delay. Nonetheless, I was thrilled to travel by Rockfort Express after such a long time. I have always had fond memories of it from my childhood and especially enjoyed the slow movement of the train - perfect for falling asleep. It was so exciting to see the train approach and as soon as it stopped, people scrambled to check if their names were listed on the train doors. A man came along with sheets of paper, a large brush and water and went along from one coach to the next pasting the passengers' reservation details. We were happy to find that our names were indeed noted and boarded the train.



The train is very unique in that it really makes the most out of the space it has. Seats that can be converted into sleepers are set up in every available space, therefore making the passageways very narrow. Passengers can choose their berths and David was on the upper berth while I was below. Two gentlemen shared the compartment with us but were just minding their own business. We set up our sleepers and were provided with blankets and pillows for the night. The train conductor came to check our tickets and informed us that he would let us know when to get off.



Soon, it was lights off! We were both tired and immediately dozed off. This was the first time I was traveling on the Rockfort Express without my parents and I was therefore worried about missing our stop. Usually my parents would be alert and wake up in time and tell me to be ready and so I could always sleep with the assurance that I would not miss my stop. This time, I had to be the alert one and so, I did not fully sleep. The thing is, there is no loud announcement made when the train stops at a station, so one has to have an idea of the arrival time beforehand. On top of that, it is really dark outside and the windows are tinted, making it difficult to see the station name outside.

Although the train was scheduled to arrive in Srirangam at around 5am, I was awake by 3am. Everyone else was fast asleep and did not seem too worried about their stop. David and I walked down the aisle to the train exit area where we could open the train door while it was moving to enjoy the early morning breeze. This is one of the best things about this train! We spent some time reading the interesting notices and warnings and I especially liked this particular one:



So beware, boys! :)

We finally arrived at Srirangam and received a very warm welcome from my mom and cousin. It was a wonderful journey and the perfect way to travel to Trichy. I could finally re-live the memories from my childhood and share the experience with David!

Keep checking back to read more about my adventures in Trichy!


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Back to the Motherland

I have been absent for a while and that's because I was busy doing my favorite thing - travel! This time it was India for two weeks and my, how much I saw and experienced in such a short time!


The main purpose of this trip was to celebrate Deepavali with my family. All of us are spread out across the globe so it is usually difficult to plan a reunion at a time suitable for everyone. It was a dream to celebrate this special occasion as a family in India and it finally came true this year! I will dedicate an entire entry to my Deepavali celebration and elaborate more about the festival then.

My itinerary in India was like this:

Chennai - Trichy - Tirupati - Bhubaneswar - Puri - Konark - Bengaluru - Chennai


In two weeks, I covered four states and each and every segment was so unique and different in its own way. More than 2,300 photos were taken and I am trying to sort them out as quickly as I can to share them with you.

Stay glued to the screen as my next entry would be about the very interesting city of Trichy!

*Zoom to view map. Map courtesy of www.wonderfulrajasthan.com .

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Amir Timur's Homeland

We could not end our tour in Uzbekistan without visiting the homeland of the man whom the Uzbeks hold in such high regard - Amir Timur. Amir Timur was born in a city called Shahrisabz which is about 80 km south of Samarkand.

It was a beautiful drive to Shahrisabz. We drove through the Zarafshon mountain range and were very close to the Afghan border (only about 200 km away from us!). In the morning, we stopped at a point to stretch and take photos of the mountains.



We then continued on to Shahrisabz. As we approached the city, we were greeted by a big statue of Amir Timur and the Ak Saray (white palace). The Ak Saray was apparently a magnificent structure during Amir Timur's time, however it has now reduced to what is known as the Ark fortress.





As it was a beautiful day, we figured that we would get spectacular views of the city. So we climbed up the fortress and enjoyed great views from the top!



We saw so many newly wed couples posing with Amir Timur's statue. It almost seemed like they were seeking his blessings for a peaceful married life!

We then walked on to the Mosque of Hazrat Imom. It was so calm and peaceful there and the interiors were so beautifully decorated with intricate stone work and art. Amir Timur's oldest and favorite son, Jehangir, is buried here.





Finally, we drove to a place not far from Samarkand to visit the Al-Bukhari Mausoleum. Al-Bukhari was a famous Persian scholar and is most famous for compiling the Sahih Bukhari which is regarded as the most authoritative book after the Quran.

The complex is vast and well maintained. Many pious Muslims go to the Al-Bukhari Mausoleum to pay their respects to this scholar. There is also a museum where different Islamic countries have gifted the Quran in their own language to this historical site.





We had a lovely walk around this complex before returning to Samarkand for our final night. Our Uzbek adventure had come to an end and it was time to go back to our normal routines.

Uzbekistan was every bit the fascinating and mysterious country I imagined it to be. The country is blessed with very warm and hospitable people and wonderful architectural wonders and I am sure it will never cease to attract more and more people to discover its riches. I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to visit a Central Asian country (a long time dream of mine) and if any of you out there is interested, start your journey with Uzbekistan!

I have come to the end of my Uzbek articles (finally!)...I will write about something else shortly!


Monday, October 4, 2010

The Land of Silk

Uzbekistan is most famous for its significance along the ancient Silk Road. The Silk Road served as an important platform for the cultural, commercial and technological exchange between countries in Central and East Asia and during this period, the cities of Samarkand, Bhukara and Khiva flourished.

When the silk trade was in full swing, the Uzbeks mastered the art of paper making using silk. We had the chance to visit a paper making site (not a factory) in Samarkand and it was interesting to watch the process. Although silk paper is not very commonly used these days, it makes for wonderful decoration pieces.

The silk paper making process:

1. Make sure you have stacked enough pieces of wood from trees such as bamboo!



2. Remove the fibre part and keep this aside (you must have a lot of patience for this!)



3. Soak the fibre in water. This suspension should then drain through a screen to form interwoven pieces of fibre.



4. The water is then taken out and the fibres stick together like mold.



5. The fibres are then placed on a felt sheet and excess water is squeezed out and the fibres start to become flat.



6. Once flat, the fibres are taken out and hung to dry to become silk paper.



7. Once dry, a piece of marble or a horn can be rubbed on the silk paper to add more shine.



8. Ta Da! It's done!



Check out the different things you could make with silk paper!





A popular purchase among visitors to Uzbekistan is the suzani silk carpet. Many restaurants, hotels and local homes are decorated with these carpets and it does make a beautiful sight! We were fortunate enough to visit a suzani silk workshop and learn about the workers' conditions there. The owner of the workshop was very impressive, being able to speak 11 languages and treat his employees very well. We learnt there that the maternity leave in Uzbekistan is 3 years!!! Th owner's good treatment reflected on the employees' attitude as most were very cheerful and smiling while working.





I could not leave the country without purchasing something in silk, so I bought a beautiful silk and sapphire blue scarf. I love it!!!

The next entry will be about Shahrisabz and will end my Uzbek adventure (due to a busy schedule I have already dragged it on for months!). See you then!

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