Sunday, January 23, 2011

Ancient Orissa!

When our plans to visit India were finalized, my parents, David and I discussed about exploring a part of the country we had never been to. I wanted to go to Kerala but read that November wasn't the right time weather wise. We all eventually decided on Orissa in northeastern India. Orissa is one of the oldest states of India which is steeped in rich history, culture and traditions. The state is also deeply religious and is also the home of many tribes. Orissa is one of the least explored parts of India and we wanted to learn more about its culture, history and people as well as visit some important temples. In addition to being a state of historic and religious significance, Orissa also boasts natural beauty with its lush green paddy fields and the Bay of Bengal.

Orissa is not very well connected with the rest of India but you can get there via Mumbai, Delhi, Calcutta and Bangalore. The airlines that go to the state's capital, Bhubaneswar, are Air India, Kingfisher and Jet Airways. As we were departing from Chennai with Kingfisher, we had to transit at Bangalore. Although there were some problems with some flight cancellation that caused us to cut short our stay in Orissa by a day, everything else turned out quite smoothly.

Check us out on our Kingfisher flight and enjoying some coffee in Bangalore's new airport!

We arrived in Bhubaneswar around 1pm and were given a warm welcome by our guide and driver. The airport is small and quite well maintained. After meeting the travel agent to settle the payment, we had a quick lunch and headed off to Puri.

The distance between Bhubaneswar and Puri is 60km and the drive to Puri lasted about an hour and a half. Along the way, we stopped at Dhauli Giri, where there are the rock edicts of King Asoka. These edicts show Asoka's remorse of blood and war and how he embraced simpler life through Buddhism. There is a statue of an elephant which represents Lord Buddha's boundless powers.

We then continued to the colorful village of Pipli which is famous for its handicrafts. The village was very lively with many shops and fruit markets.

By the time we got to Puri, it was around 7pm so we headed straight to dinner. After that, we went to our hotel, Hans Coco Palms which is located close to Puri beach. It was a nice and pleasant hotel with spacious rooms.

Next up, our visit of Puri city!
Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Pilgrimage

Every time my family visits India, we try our best to go to Tirupati to seek Lord Venkatajalapthi's blessings. This famous temple which is considered the holiest place of worship for Hindus is located in Andra Pradesh state and is about 160 km from Chennai.

When we go to Tirupati, we usually rent a car and drive there from Chennai. This time however, we took an overnight train from Trichy which brought us directly to Tirupati. It was a very enjoyable journey and a great way for the family to bond after a long time. We arrived in Tirupati at around 9.30am.

This time, instead of taking the car all the way up to the temple, we decided to trek up. I was a bit nervous about it but still looked forward to the challenge. Check out the plan and the number of steps we had to walk up! There were 3,550 steps to walk up and some areas were very steep but we managed!

Here you can see that we were all set for the long hike up!

It was not as crowded as we expected and the way up to the temple was quite well maintained and was sheltered. We saw some beautiful animals, small shrines and also stopped for drinks from time to time. I loved that Limca! So chill and fresh! The best part of the hike for me was the outdoor walk. It was around 5pm and it was so cool and breezy. Not to forget the spectacular views of the mountains! Loved it!

Almost done...

When we got to the top, it was around 6.30pm. So, overall, it took about 5 hours to hike up 9km! I am quite proud we managed to do it! We also tried our best to get tickets to do an angapradhakshanam and were really lucky we managed to get them as there is a quota of 350 pilgrims per day). This is a special prayer where devotees roll on the temple floor around Lord Venkatajalapathi's shrine to pray for good health. This takes place around 2am and everyone must take a shower with their clothes on and go to the temple without drying themselves. The women and men are separated and each take their turn to pray. The moment you enter the altar, there are so many police staff waiting with canes to push people forward, so you literally only get to stand 15 seconds in front of God. That's how crowded it is and the way the whole system is managed! We did all of this and the whole process took about a bit more than 2 hours this time - quite short compared to other times we have been there. It was a really unique experience for David too!

We then packed our bags, had breakfast and headed back to Chennai. Once we got there, we had a buffet lunch at a restaurant to celebrate my parents' wedding anniversary.

After the busy Deepavali-Tirupati weekend, my brothers headed off to get back to their routine schedules and my parents, David and I eagerly awaited the next exciting part of our trip - Orissa! All that and more in my next entry! Keep reading!
Sunday, January 9, 2011

Revamped Again!

On 3rd January 2011, I completed a whole year of blogging about my travels. I can't believe it has been a whole year since I started sharing my adventures with you all! I hope you have enjoyed reading about my experiences and I look forward to sharing more of my adventures with you.

I thought it was time for a change for my blog design and wanted to use more subtle colors. Quite a change for me considering I love colorful things but I hope you like it!

The photo in my header was taken when I was in Paris and was crossing the Seine River to go to Les Invalides. It was a beautiful foggy day and made Paris seem very mystical.

Do send in your feedback and suggestions about my blog design! I would love to hear from you!

Happy 2011 everyone!
Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Festival of Lights

The main purpose of our trip to India was to reunite with our family and celebrate Deepavali together. Deepavali is a grand festival celebrated by Hindus all over the world and is especially celebrated in an elaborate fashion in India. Usually, a month before Deepavali, there are massive sales everywhere, streets are bustling with people in colorful clothes, vendors are shouting at the top of their voices and sweets and savories are ubiquitous. Bazaars open late into the night and India truly becomes a place that never sleeps.

Deepavali is a festival that celebrates the victory of good over evil. There are several legends in Hinduism and Jainism that mark the celebration of this festival and the common factor in all of these is the victory of good over evil. One of the most well known legends is Lord Krishna defeating the evil demon king Narakasura. Narakasura had been a real nuisance to the villagers and they sought help from Lord Krishna. As Narakasura was dying, he apologized to Lord Krishna and asked that everyone should celebrate this day by lighting lamps (embracing light over darkness), wearing colorful new clothes and visiting the temple to seek the Lord's blessings.

On the eve of Deepavali, families gather together, light the lamps and burst fireworks. After a traditional dinner, they retire to bed. The following day, they wake up as early as 4am and the head of the family (usually the eldest person) gives everyone a head oil massage. During this ritual, a prayer song is sung. A shower is then taken and the family prays and wears new clothes. They usually visit a temple and then enjoy traditional meals for lunch. In the early morning and evening, more fireworks are burst and it is the most exciting part of the festival.

This was our very first Deepavali celebration together in India and we had the lovely company of our cousins, uncles and aunt. We got dressed up in colorful clothes to kick off the celebrations!

We had such a fabulous time together and had an time with the huge variety of fireworks! Check out all the fireworks we had!!!! All gone in less than 24 hours!

We all headed to the rooftop terrace of my cousin's house and tried out all kinds of fireworks. What a great moment! It was so thrilling!

So many people in the city were bursting firecrackers too and it was such a beautiful sight. Look at how the Rockfort temple was lit!

We also went out at night to visit the bazaar and my, just look at the crowds!

The following morning we all had our oil baths, wore new clothes and headed off to the rooftop terrace for more fireworks fun.

Just look at the 10,000 wala firecrackers! It was just phenomenal!

My mom, aunt and cousin's wife prepared delicious food for lunch the next day. We just could not stop stuffing ourselves with the great food! More cousins came to visit and we had a good time singing with them.

As we ate so much, we also went out for a walk in the afternoon and enjoyed cool coconut drinks. Look at the streets that are full of used fireworks!

We truly enjoyed ourselves immensely and it was probably the best Deepavali we ever celebrated! It was a very special moment that we will never forget!
Monday, January 3, 2011

Sights of Trichy - Part 3

For me, Trichy's icon is the Rockfort Temple. Trichy is however very famous for so many other temples and one of the most well-known ones is the Sri Ranganathaswamy temple in Srirangam, a district of Trichy.

Srirangam has a significant population of Vaishnavites, who are followers of Lord Vishnu. The temple structure is very vast and the towers really dominate the skyline of Trichy. The main tower, or gopuram, is known as Rajagopuram and stands at a height of 72 meters and is the tallest in Asia. It looks so grand, towering above our heads and is really a marvel.

The temple compound itself looks like a small village with small cafes and vendors selling flowers and fruits. Overall, there are 21 gopurams in this temple, each which is beautifully carved with colorful statues.

This temple is very strict and non-Hindus are not allowed inside the main prayer areas. It is often crowded with devotees at almost all times during the day and this time, we went with a guide to better understand the history behind the temple.

The story goes like this: One day, when Lord Brahma was in deep meditation, he received an idol of Lord Ranganatha (Vishnu). This idol was passed on to many holy people and finally ended in Lord Rama's hands. When the demon Ravana was killed with the aid of his own brother, Vibishana, Lord Rama offered the idol to him as a gift of appreciation and gratitude. When Vibishana was en route to his kingdom in Sri Lanka, the idol decided to stay put in Srirangam. The statue became covered by forests and was only discovered much later by a Chola king. This king then built the temple for the Lord.

I visited the temple with my hubby, parents and brother just a day before Deepavali and we had a good peaceful time there. We also spent time admiring the beautiful and intricate architecture. So impressive, especially when you think that the temple was constructed thousands of years ago!

And see how beautiful and colorful these paintings and statues are!

That's us exploring the temple. Notice the colorful door we are sitting in front of? That's the door to heaven!

I had a great time visiting this temple after many years. The district of Srirangam is also very nice so if you do plan to visit Tamil Nadu, don't forget to stop by here!

Next up, I'll share the great fun I had celebrating Deepavali a grand way with my family in India! Keep reading this space!


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