Monday, August 30, 2010

The Land of Lord Brahma - Pushkar


    I have a tendency to sleep during my car journeys… and this is what I did moving ahead of Salasar. My daydream slumber was broken by some murmurs which grew louder as my eyes opened wider. Our car had halted at the toll tax booth just a km ahead of my next destination. The murmurs were those of one of the numerous guides who roam around here coaxing tourists to hire them. But my dad wasn’t interested. Neither was I. Fully awake now, I rolled down my car window to savor the smells of a land so sacred to the Hindus that no pilgrimage is said to be complete without a visit to this holy place.

    Welcome to ‘The Land of Lord Brahma – Pushkar’. Lord Brahma - The Hindu deity of creation, resides here, just like Lord Shiva resides in Varanasi. No wonder then, it has the distinction of having the main and perhaps the only Brahma Temple in the world. Even the picturesque Pushkar Lake is said to have been created by Lord Brahma himself and has the same sanctity for Hindu’s as the Mansarover in Tibet.

Pushkar


    Various Hindu Holy Scriptures like the Padma Purana, Mahabharata, Skanda Purana, etc have illustrated the significance of this sacred city. They have called it ‘Pushkar Raj’ – The king of all pilgrimages. Hence for most believers, it is essential to visit Pushkar at least once in their lifetime. The ambience of peace and spirituality that this tiny tranquil town exhibits, casts a magical spell and lures not only the Indians but also the foreigners. Hence, in recent years, it has become a popular destination for foreign tourists too.

During the month of Kartik (Oct/Nov), this sleepy little town comes to life with the colorful and world famous ‘Pushkar Cattle Fair’. Very few, if at all any, fairs in the world can match the liveliness of this fair. Lacs of visitors from all over the world come to witness this magical event. The 12 day fair is characterized by camel races, dazzling displays of bangles, brassware and other religious activities in addition to the camel and cattle trading which is also the major attraction of the mela (fest).

Where to stay in Pushkar

When in Pushkar, there are hotels and hotels of every budget, shape and size. The room tariffs vary according to the time – discounted during the off season and very high through the fair.

Huts in the RTDC tourist village - Pushkar
[ Huts in the RTDC tourist village ]

    On my earlier trips to Pushkar, I have stayed at the RTDC tourist village huts (located opposite the Pushkar mela ground). Each hut can accommodate 2 persons and gives a very nice rustic, village feel. The ambience and the atmosphere are very comfortable here. But this time the costs had spiraled up to 5 times to Rs. 2500/hut (it does during the fair but not otherwise and we had not gone even close to the fair).

Hotel Red Rose - The board telling 'The best place to stay' in Gujarati - Pushkar
[ Hotel Red Rose - The board telling 
'The best place to stay' in Gujarati ]

My Room at the Red Rose hotel - Pushkar
[ My Room at the Red Rose hotel ]

    Thus, we set out in search of another staying place. My eyes fell on this board ‘Hotel Red RoseA convenient place of stay’. But to my surprise it was written Gujarati. Since we had been to Gujarat a couple of months back, I just felt like checking it out. It was very reasonable and the rooms were large, clean and eminently comfortable. To top it all, it is situated very close to the Pushkar Lake and the Brahma temple. The family, who own the place, were very hospitable and ensured that we felt at home. The only drawback, there is no in-house restaurant and one has to scout for it outside. Still, I will say its good value for money!

Contact Details:
Hotel Red Rose
145-2772344, 9414300289, 9414314143

Hotel RTDC Tourist village
145-2773074

Where to eat in Pushkar

    Pushkar is full of eateries with lots of rooftop and garden restaurants to choose from. Located opposite the Red Rose hotel, Maheshwari Bhawan Dharmshala is one of the best places to eat if you are looking for authentic Rajasthani food. We took coupons (available around 1 hr before) and had our dinner at 8 pm. Simple thali fare, the food was reasonable (Rs. 40/ thali), unlimited and above all very tasty. The kitchen was just opposite the seating area and it was fascinating to watch them cook rotis on a coal stove. Wow, it was a good old way of cooking and the whole experience was equally good.

How to reach Pushkar

    Pushkar is on the edge of the Rajasthan desert and is well linked to important nearby cities by roads. It is - 10 km from Ajmer (nearest railway station), 175 km from Salasar and Khatu, 260 km from Jhunjhunu and 140 km from Jaipur (nearest airport).
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Thursday, August 26, 2010

My First Guest Post


A couple of months back, I had got an invitation from George of OneTravel (offering cheap tickets) to do a guest post on his blog. And today it's going live! I am so excited to have it being published!! I am anxious too, to know your feedback.

The article is on one of my trips to Rishikesh, a Spiritual town in India.


Here’s a small preview of what I wrote

The city life had strained me out! The deafening commotions of a fast paced life, the buzz, the clamour… you know what I am talking about… its happened to you too! I wanted to run off from the daily drudgery to some place which could help me unburden this stress and fill me with calm and joy….

So please Click Here (I am sorry, this link is no longer active but you can click this link instead to read more on Rishikesh on my blog) right now to read the entire featured post.

Happy Reading! 
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Monday, August 23, 2010

Where to Stay, Eat in Salasar and Markets

    Like all pilgrim centres, the temple of Salasar Balaji too, is surrounded by bustling bazaars choc-a-bloc with a number of shops selling various items like sweets, coconuts, mehendi and other eatables like pickles, digestives etc. in addition to a range of religious paraphernalia. A number of devotees are seen strolling around, buying things, and just getting a feel of the place.

A
[ A shop selling pickles, digestives, mehendi,etc in Salasar ]

Moli's
[ Moli's - sacred Hindu red thread rolls 
being sold in the market.
They symbolize blessings from God... 
Are used to tie the coconuts to the temple tree  (to view the picture click here).. 
Also tied on wrists on religious occasions, hence people also take it back home ]

There are a lot of hotels and dharmshalas nearby the temple where one can opt to stay. Finding a good and clean one can be a problem though.

The
[ The Bazaars of Salasar besides the temple main gate...
On the far left side is the GHB hotel ]

    On the eating front, there are lots of options too. But, I always have my meals/snacks in the GHB hotel just next to the main entrance of the temple. I have eaten here 2 to 3 times before but this time the food was not upto the mark…neither tasty nor fresh. 
So, if you find or know a good eating or staying place in Salasar do leave a comment so that it can help fellow devotees also.

Fresh
[ Fresh mosambi and pineapple juice ]

    Hunger had made me weary. With a half filled stomach, I dragged my tired feet towards the car parking area. Luckily, I stumbled upon this fruit juice shop where a glass of fresh sweet lime (mosambi) juice really replenished me up, considering the heat, for the journey ahead...

Before I end this post...
Do you remember this Temple of Varanasi??

Tridev

Well, it's the Tridev Temple...
I had written in the relative post of 'Temples of Varanasi',
"This newly built temple is dedicated to Salasar Hanuman, Rani Sati Dadi and Khatu Shyam – all these deities have their distinct temples at Salasar, Jhunjhunu and Khatu cities respectively in Rajasthan."
I had never thought then, that i will be blogging about the original temples so soon! 
So, there i go, I have now described all the three original temples in my last few posts (Click on the links above to read about them).
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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Salasar Balaji Temple


    Our next stop after Jhunjhunu was Salasar situated in the Churu district of Rajasthan. Around 170 km from Jaipur, 85 km from Khatu as well as Jhunjhunu, it took us about 1.5 hours to reach here.

The entrance to the Salasar Balaji Temple
[ The entrance to the Salasar Balaji Temple ]

The hallway leading upto the Salasar Balaji Temple
[ The hallway leading upto the Temple ]

    Dedicated to Lord Balaji (Lord Hanuman), the temple is so popular that even on a day when temperatures cross 40 degrees, a steady stream of devotees gather here. Made completely out of silver, the temple is spread in a huge area. Beautiful inscriptions of ‘Shree Ram’ and intricate carvings of Shree Balaji beautify the silver walls inside the temple. The temple room was full of devotees who come from all over India to take the blessings. After taking the blessings, most of the devotees take a few moments out to recite the Hanuman Chalisa or other sacred texts. The temple witnesses lacs of devotees during the fairs on Chaitra Purnima and Ashwin Purnima as well as on the occasion of Hanuman Jayanti. It is one of the biggest temples dedicated to Lord Hanuman in India (the other that I have visited is the Sankat Mochan Temple in Varanasi).

Coconuts tied on the tree in the Salasar Balaji temple premises
[ Coconuts tied on the tree in the temple premises ]

    One of the most remarkable features of this famous temple is that Akhand Hari Kirtan (continuous chanting of name of Lord Rama) has been going on in the temple premises for the last 20 years. Also, a number of devotees can be seen tying coconuts with moli (sacred red threads) in the temple premises which is believed to fulfill all their wishes, if done with sincere faith.

Prasad for offering to Lord Hanuman - Salasar Balaji temple
[ Prasad for offering to Lord Hanuman 
is available inside the temple ]

The story of the temple goes like this –

    On Saturday, Shravan Shukla-Navami Samvat 1811, a miracle happened. A farmer of village Asota in district Nagaur of Rajasthan was ploughing his field. Suddenly his plough hit some stony thing and produced a strange sound. On digging up the place, he found an idol which was covered with sand. Soon his wife reached there with his lunch and the farmer showed the idol to his wife. She cleaned the idol with her sari. On discovering that the idol was of none other but that of Lord Balaji (Lord Hanuman), they considered themselves blessed, bowed their heads with devotion and started worshipping the idol.

    The news of the appearance of Lord Balaji spread like wild fire in Asota. The Thakur of the village heard the news too. He then had a vision in which Balaji ordered him to send the idol to Salasar in the Churu district. The same night, Lord Balaji came in the dream of Mohandasji Maharaj of Salasar (who was unaware of this incident), an ardent devotee of Lord Hanuman and told him about the idol found in Asota. Mohandasji immediately sent a message to the Thakur of Asota. The Thakur was amazed when he realized that Mohandasji knew the finer details of the event without even coming to Asota. He now understood that the entire episode, which was taking place, was nothing short of a miracle, undoubtedly happening as per the wishes of Lord Balaji. Soon after, the idol was sent to Salasar and sanctified at the place known as Salasar Dham today.

Dhunia of Mohandasji
[ The sacred Dhunia of Mohandasji ]

    Definitely, Lord Balaji had blessed his beloved devotees including Mohandasji who later spent the rest of his life along with the Lord Himself before taking Samadhi (alive burial). Dhunia (holy fire lit by him) of Mohandasji still continues to burn inside the temple. The devotees consider it sacred and eating a bit of it is believed to cure all diseases. Some take it back home as it brings good luck and prosperity.

Jadula ceremony - Rajasthan, Salasar
[ Jadula ceremony going on inside the temple premises ]

    Also, an interesting ceremony known as ‘Jadula’ (also done at Khatu Shyam temple) in which a child’s hair is shaven for the first time takes place here.

Mata Anjani Temple, Salasar
[ Mata Anjani Temple ]

    When in Salasar, do not forget to visit the Temple of Anjani Mata, the mother of Lord Hanuman, which is situated just two kilometers away from Salasar Dham towards Laxmangarh.
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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Flavors of Rajasthan - I


Gatte ki sabzi, Dal baati-churma, Mangodi, Pakoda kadhi… think of authentic Rajasthani cuisine and this is what immediately pops up in one’s mind!

    Royally rich and truly exotic, the cuisine of this land is a magical mix of exquisite flavors, multi-colored spices skillfully blended with a tint of desert air and lovingly cooked with ladlefuls of ghee. Equally alluring are its wide variety of street food fare that is available throughout the state. Be it the hot jalebis or the crispy kachoris – the flavors are absolutely mouth watering and simply irresistible! Till I was in Rajasthan, I sure was not counting the calories. No one does, actually!!

    So, all you food lovers across the globe, come along and experience the culinary delights of Rajasthan… As I set out to savor some of the unique flavors of the region (which I will be posting from time to time). The appearance itself, I am sure, will be reason enough, to set your taste buds rolling! 

Chirawa

    Chirawa, a Shekhawati village around 25 km from Jhunjhunu is well known for its Pedas. Famous as the ‘Chirawa Peda’, these are available at most of the sweetmeat shops in the state. But, it’s best to buy them from the town it comes from, Chirawa since the taste definitely will differ at the other places. Thus, though out of our way, we still make it a point to travel all the way here just to get a taste of these! Do not miss these especially if you have a sweet tooth or even if you don’t!!

Very Famous Lal Chands Peda shop of Chirawa
[ Very Famous Lal Chand’s Peda shop of Chirawa ]

A box full of delicious Chirawa Peda with a generous sprinkling of cardamom and pistachio
[ A box full of delicious Chirawa Peda with a 
generous sprinkling of cardamom and pistachio ]

    Absolutely recommended...We always buy them from Lal Chand’s Pedas, situated on the station road, one of the most famous shops in Chirawa (they now have a branch in Jhunjhunu too!). You can even take a couple of boxes for your loved ones back home as they last for as long as 1 month.


Flavors of Jhunjhunu (Where, What to eat in Jhunjhunu)

    Rajasthan being an arid state, there’s scarcity of water and lack of vegetation. Thus, gram flour, dried lentils, beans like kair (a camel's favorite, a small, round desert fruit which grows on a prickly shrub), sangri (dried wild leaves), etc are liberally used and sold here.

A shop outside the Rani Sati Temple selling a variety of things to take back home
[ A shop outside selling a variety of things to take back home, 
Did you notice the Pedas…I told you they are everywhere! ]

My mom takes quite a lot of stuff like kair sangri, mustard seeds, etc from this shop just outside the Rani Sati Temple complex to stack up her kitchen shelves.

    As I have already mentioned that when in Jhunjhunu, it’s best to have one’s lunch and dinner in the temple premises itself. But if you are feeling hungry besides these meal times, then all you need to do is just step out of the temple complex… There are a number of pushcarts selling a variety of snacks waiting just for you!

There is an array of chaats like Pani puris, Aloo tikiyas, Matka kulfis and also The Bombay bhel!

A push cart selling a variety of chaats in Jhunjhunu
[ A push cart selling a variety of street chaats ]

    I tasted some of these… was okay but the best was reserved for the last…
As I was about to leave Jhunjhunu for my next destination, my eyes fell on this pushcart crowded with a lot of tourists. The delectable sight of Pakodi chaats, Kanji vadas and Dahi vadas was inviting enough to get me in!

Pakodis - Street food of Rajasthan
[ Crisp and spicy Pakodis being fried ]

Kanji vadas… fabulous and a very popular appetizer…very tasty, melt-in-the-mouth light and fluffy…

Kanji Vadas - Street food of Rajasthan
[ Kanji Vadas... light and fluffy ]

What I totally adore is the pungent fermented kanji…ummm…actually better tasted than described… leaves a lovely after taste!

Dahi Vadas - Street food of Rajasthan
[ Dahi Vadas... dipped in sweet yoghurt ]

Dahi vadas... Another famous starter…served soaked in sweet yoghurt topped with tangy spices and colorful chutneys giving it a very distinct taste!  I gorged on quite a few of them!

A perfect morning meal in Jhunjhunu set me up for the road to Salasar ahead!

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Saturday, August 7, 2010

Other Temples in Jhunjhunu

Besides the Rani Sati Dadi Temple, there are some other temples in the complex too. Have a look...

[ Magnificient entrance leading upto these Temples ]

[ Three Temples dedicated to Lord Shiva and Lord Hanuman ]

[ Lord Shiva in the Temple ]

[ Spires of various other Temples along with the main Rani Sati Temple ]

[ View from the terrace - The blue colored gate on the 
left is the entrance in the first picture ]

In addition to these, a number of other small temples are being constructed near the main Rani Sati temple too.
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Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Rani Sati Dadi Temple, Jhunjhunu

     There are in all 13 sati temples in the complex with 12 smaller one’s and 1 main temple dedicated to Rani Sati Dadi. Built in pure white marble with a red fluttering flag at the top, the building forms are interesting and the entire edifice looks stunning.
[ Entrance to the Temple ]

[ Spires of the 13 sati Temples ]

A huge statue of Lord Shiva in the middle of the complex surrounded by the lush green gardens, adds to the beauty of the place.

[ Magnificient Rani Sati Temple spire ]

    Inside the temple, the interiors, adorned with exquisite murals and fascinating rich glass mosaics depicting the entire history of the place, are eye-catching. I grabbed a seat in the middle of the room, trying to soak in every detail…

    Just like Khatu, the history of this temple too takes you back to the times of the Mahabharata.
When Abhimanyu (the son of the great Pandava, Arjun) lost his life while fighting the battle of Mahabharata, his wife and soon-to-be-mother, Uttara had wished to commit sati and end her life too. Citing the fact that it would not be appropriate to kill the innocent yet-to-be-born child, Lord Krishna stopped her from doing so. Since she was adamant, He gave her the boon that her desire to become sati shall be fulfilled in the next birth.

    Many years later, Uttara was reborn as Narayani bai and Abhimanyu as Tandhan Das. A beautiful horse possessed by Tandhan Das was being eyed by the son of king of Hissar from quite some time. But Tandhan Das refused to part with his precious horse by handing it over to the king’s son. On deciding to obtain forcefully then, the king’s son confronted him. He killed the king’s son in the battle that ensued. This enraged the king and he decided to take revenge soon. Sometime later, Tandhan Das was married to Narayani bai. After marriage, while returning to their village, they were suddenly attacked by the army of Hissar. Tandhan Das fought the battle bravely before he was stabbed in the back and lost his life. The young bride, Narayani bai displayed exemplary courage and bravery by fighting the army singlehandedly and killed the king.

    She then asked Ranaji (the caretaker of the horse) to make immediate arrangements for her to be set ablaze along with her husband’s cremation.
Very pleased with Ranaji who played a vital role in fulfilling her wish to be sati with her husband, she blessed him that his name will be taken and worshiped before her name and since then she is known as Rani Sati.

    Soon after, her influence of 'sat' (truth and loyalty) involuntarily set up the pyre ablaze.  A storm rose from the ashes telling Ranaji to take them on the horse and to build a temple wherever the horse stops. The horse stopped in Jhunjhunu where the temple stands today…

    Craning my neck up, I saw a fresco on the ceiling - Narayani bai with her husband in lap, enveloped in flames, Ranaji with the horse in the background. So beautiful, looked like it had been created yesterday. Equally mesmerizing was the main sanctum area.


[ Rani Sati Dadi ]

    Unlike most of the temples in India, the fact that this temple does not enshrine a statue or image of any Gods or Goddesses makes it all the more unique. A trident with two eyes, nose ring, a red bindi and a red chunri is worshipped in the form of power and force which is the supreme might as per the Hindu religion. A fine portrait of the Rani Sati Dadi is positioned in the sanctum (Pradhan Mand) with the imposing Shikhar.

[ The Rani Sati Dadi Temple, Jhunjhunu ]

    In front of the sanctum, there is a marble platform where devotees pray by drawing the Sathiya (Swastik) and offer roli, chawal, mehendi, flowers, coconut, etc to the Goddess. Women also offer Suhaag pitaris (saree, bangles, bindi, kajal, etc) and pray for the long life of their husbands and the well being of their entire family.

[ Back view of the Temple ]

    As I had even stayed here, I got the fortune of attending the evening aarti. It was a wonderful experience. After the prayer, prasad of bundis was distributed to all.

    Whether you belong to this place or not, it really doesn’t matter, It’s spectacular and interesting and hence definitely worth visiting. I am sure the beauty here will linger on your mind for a long time.
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