Saturday, August 25, 2012

An Interview With BlogAdda and A Food Feature

In the past few months, I was contacted by two different places in the blogosphere for a feature. Both were exciting opportunities and both, things of joy and honor. Now, that they have gotten through, I am very happy to share them with all of you here!

So, here they go -

1. Interview @ BlogAdda:

I had the honor of answering some questions revolving around me and My Yatra Diary... prepared by the Indian Blogging community – BlogAdda. Personally, answering the questionnaire made for a good time for reflection on something that I have been doing for a few years now.

Here is an excerpt,
Q: You travel to places of religious importance. Infact, your blog started off with a post on Haridwar, the most famous pilgrimage city of India. Is there any reason to follow a niche for your travel?
A: I love traveling to places of religious or historical importance. Just to think that these are the same places that my forefathers or ancestors once walked on, gives me a lot of personal satisfaction, peace and solace.

Please click on the following link to read the entire interview: http://blog.blogadda.com/2012/08/16/interview-with-arti-indian-travel-blogger

2. Food Feature:

Mark Wiens, a passionate traveller and a self confessed food lover from Migrationology.com was in the process of scouting 33 food passionate travel bloggers for his article - "33 Foods Worth Traveling Across the World Just to Eat". When he invited me to chip in as one of the bloggers with my recommendation, I was thrilled and instantly agreed to it. Apart from being a great opportunity, it was a huge honor for me to be a part of something that I thought was a highly tempting and a very creative concept uniting travel bloggers from all round the world, sharing their common love for food and travel.

Please do check them out and let me know how I fared. I always very eagerly wait to hear from you. Thank you. :-)

PS: I will be traveling for the whole of next week, hence I have scheduled this post to be  published automatically. Will be back very very soon, till then... take care and keep blogging!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Imperial Palace and East Gardens


The map of Tokyo city showed a big patch of green right in the middle of the city. And now that we were roaming around in that part we knew exactly why! We were somewhere in the heart of the city and everywhere we saw - the Hibiya garden, the pathways we walked on and the destinations we were led to - our eyes saw thick blankets of green adding charm to the already beautiful Tokyo!

Pathway leading to the Imperial Palace and Gardens, Tokyo
The pedestrian walk lined with trees and view of the water

Sideway of the path leading to the Imperial Palace and Gardens, Tokyo
View while walking towards the Imperial Palace East Gardens

Imperial Palace East Gardens

A short walk from the Hibiya Gardens, we found our next spot - the Imperial Palace East Gardens - more carefree and a bit more peaceful than the Hibiya.

Imperial Palace East Park Entrance, Tokyo
Entrance to the Imperial East Garden

At the entrance of the garden stood a majestic statue in honor of the great samurai warrior - Kusunoki Masashige who fought many a great samurai battles for Japan’s Emperor in the early 14 century.

The staue of the samurai warrior, Kusunoki Masashige in the Imperial Palace and Gardens, Tokyo
Kusunoki Masashige – the great samurai warrior, shown riding a horse.

Open for the general public for free, people were simply relaxing in the gardens or taking their children on joyful pram rides.

Imperial Palace East Park, Tokyo
Imperial Palace East Garden

Tired by now, we sat down on the soft green grass and took out some time to relax. Nearby, a small girl was running around busy playing with her younger brother, rolling out chirpy laughters in the air. I casually waved to her and she returned a cute grin back.

Kids playing in the Imperial Gardens, Tokyo
Cute kids - our friends!

That was the beginning of a sweet, short and simple language-barrier free friendship lasting for the next half an hour or so. Batteries fully recharged, we bid good byes and exited the garden to walk straight into the Imperial Palace.

Imperial Palace/Nijubashi

I saw the entire setting of the Imperial Palace as something that I had always seen in fairy tale books - a massive moat with still waters creating wavy ripples in it, the towering walls around it, a stone bridge standing above and... in the background, mounted on a hillock surrounded by lush woods and grass with various flowers adding color - the elegant Imperial Palace.

Imperial Palace and Gardens Stone Bridge, Tokyo
A long view of the Imperial Palace with the stone bridge at the entrance

Formerly known as the Edo Castle from where the Shogunate (governing officer) had ruled the country for over 250 years, today the Imperial palace is home to the Emperor of the country and the Imperial family and remains closed for general viewing.

Imperial Palace, Tokyo
Imperial Palace - The Royal Residence

But much of its surrounding property is free for you to roam around all through the year and just have a good time in the peace of nature.

Vast open land in front of the Imperial Palace and Gardens, Tokyo - 1
The vast open premises of the Imperial Palace

After covering quite a chunk of green from our Tokyo city map on foot, it was time now to head back to our hotel room and take some much needed rest but the day was far from over as yet. The night would see us out onto the streets again, to meet this bubbly city dressed in its evening gown...

How to Reach and Other Fast Facts:

Entry fee: Free.
Timings: 9.00 – 16.30
Get Down at: 
For the Imperial Palace East Garden: Otemachi Subway station (C10 exit).
For Imperial Palace: Niju-bashi-mae subway station.
Also, For both: Around 15 min. walk from the Hibiya Gardens.

Previous Posts from the Japan Trip -

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Stroll in the Hibiya Gardens, Tokyo

Day 2: Sensoji temple, Asakusa in Tokyo - Nakamise Dori Shopping Arcade in Tokyo - Sumida River Cruise, Tokyo - HIBIYA GARDEN - Imperial Palace and Gardens - Tokyo Tower

A prolonged search for the Imperial Palace found us standing at the entrance of the Hibiya Garden instead and we gladly made our way in as the entry was free.

HIBIYA GARDEN

One of the most popular parks of Tokyo, Hibiya Garden was built, designed and constructed as a modern city park in the early 1900’s. Used as an army drill site at one time, it today serves its purpose of a place for some fun and recreation very well. In spite of standing in the midst of the high-tech area of Ginza, the garden is a huge respite from all the city chaos and does a fantastic job of keeping people close to nature and to life.

Take a quiet stroll,

Green pathway at Hibiya Garden - Tokyo, Japan
Pathways at Hibiya Garden - Tokyo, Japan
Serene Walk at Hibiya Garden - Tokyo, Japan
The many paths leading you in the interiors of the garden

... sit down on one of its benches,

Pathway - Hibiya Garden - Tokyo, Japan

or stand still near a pond...

Serene lake and trees at Hibiya Garden - Tokyo, Japan
View from the Hibiya Garden - Tokyo, Japan
Two different ponds inside the park

... all the smells, the vibes and the atmosphere,

White Flowers in Hibiya Garden - Tokyo, Japan
Flower and architecture at Hibiya Garden - Tokyo, Japan
Pink flowers in Hibiya Garden - Tokyo, Japan
Flowers at Hibiya Garden - Tokyo, Japan
Pretty flowers - Hibiya Garden - Tokyo, Japnn
Different colors and varieties of flowers blooming in the garden
I'm sorry, I've have no clue on the names :-)

Beautiful Flower arrangement at the Hibiya Garden - Tokyo, Japan
Beautiful flowers at Hibiya Garden - Tokyo, Japan
Green Forested groove at Hibiya Garden - Tokyo, Japan
Thick forested groove at Hibiya Garden - Tokyo, Japan
Fountain at Hibiya Garden - Tokyo, Japan
Trees, plants and fountains arranged beautifully

... all the sights that you come across, everything is fascinating and soothing to your senses.

A Cat at rest at Hibiya Garden - Tokyo, Japan
A cat keeps guard

A child takes a break from tennis at Hibiya Garden - Tokyo, Japan
Tennis Court: A girl takes a break from her tennis lessons

Artistic flower arangement at Hibiya Garden - Tokyo, Japan
A teddy bear dolled up in nature

An artist's inspiration - Hibiya Garden - Tokyo, Japan
An artist takes some inspiration

Children enjoy themselves at Hibiya Garden - Tokyo, Japan
Children Park: Kids and parents enjoying their day out

Complete with lovely fountains that breathe a whiff of fresh air, pleasant lakes that have stood the hammers of renovations, beautiful flowers that sing the melody of life, and lovely sights that give you a meaning for life... a stroll in this garden unraveled before me a different side to the personality of the Tokyo city that I had hitherto seen in my trip to Japan...

This was a place,

Rose at Hibiya Garden - Tokyo, Japan

Where God-gift of nature was adored as much as (or may be even more?) pride was taken in all its arty concrete and innovative technology...

This was a place,

Two generations spotted in Hibiya Garden - Tokyo, Japan

Where two generations - the old and the new - strode along,
side by side, very happy in their own spaces without any pushing around...

This, was a place...  I realized, I was slowly getting to know...

Getting there: How to Reach and Other Fast Facts

Get Down at: Hibiya Station of Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line OR Kasumigaseki Station of Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line and Chiyoda Line. 2 minutes walk each.
Entry Fee: Free
Nearby Places to Visit: Imperial Palace and Gardens

Friday, August 10, 2012

A Panaroma of Colors Captured In My Travel Lens

As a small kid, I remember playing a game in which the diner would ask, Colour Colour? To which we would customarily reply – Which colour? Then, the diner would go on to name a random colour and send us all running around to touch that colour in any thing around us that contained it. So like for example, a 'green' would see us running towards a tree or a 'yellow' call would see us sprinting towards a flower. The slowest one to do so would be eliminated.

This tag 'Capture The Colour' passed on to me by Magiceye of Mumbai Daily took me back to those childhood memories of mine and hence, for a change, I decided to take it up. The challenge was to touch 5 colors namely red, white, blue, green and yellow from your travel album and bring them out. So there I went, running around my image folders, looking for 5 photos that really did capture the colors. And here’s what I found –


Blue

How many shots that we capture force us to stop, ponder and contemplate on the various elements in its frames? This one did.


Varanasi - The city of Life and Death
Varanasi - The City of Life ... And Death

The sacredness of the waters of the River Ganga below and the oneness of the covering of the heavenly skies above – With the help of these two oars in blue, a boat full of people crosses the huge ocean of life in an attempt to make it to their final destination of salvation or Moksha.

That’s how I saw it in those moments with Her (read: Ganga River). I still wonder if it was meant to be seen that way. May be it simply was a case of my imagination taking its wings, or was it the magic of the city – the City of Life... and death, Varanasi - playing on me? I will never know.

Green

I had never planned to be here.

Green waters of the River Ganga in Harsil, Himalayas
The Magic of the River Ganga - Harsil

The attraction of the sacred and the clear waters of the River Ganga is what took me to a narrow dirt path in a small town by the name of Harsil during my chance halt en route to Badrinath. Not only did I come here but I also met a sweet village woman and returned back enriched, with lessons for life. For these reasons and some more, this nostalgic picture from my travel album will always remain a special memory for me.


Yellow

Think of Rani Sati Temple in Jhunjhunu, and red is the first colour that comes to mind, the colour of Rani Sati Dadi - a manifestation of Ma Shakti. The second colour that comes in mind is white, the colour of the marble the entire temple is built in. These thoughts, is what makes this pictureof  a burning diya (lamp) with the temple in the background, all the more special for me. After the prayers, the diya is brought out in the compound so that everyone can receive the blessings of the Goddess.

Arti in the Rani Sati Temple in Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan
Rani Sati Temple in Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan

Although its an everyday ritual, but the real beauty lies in those few moments of prayer - when you circulate your palms over the divine lights in a clockwise direction three times, close your eyes and warm your face with its heat - that is the moment when rest of the colours slowly fade away in the background and all that remains before you is Yellow - the divine light.

White

Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad was a place washed in white. Be it the loin dhoti in His various oil paintings and photographs, the humble setting in His personal room, the cotton yarn He spun on the charkha wheel, His three monkeys sitting in a significant posture or the canvas which carried the entire message of his life - Everywhere I saw, the colour white strikingly stood out so much so that even the history of the place was seeped in white!

A Statue of Mahatma Gandhi in the Sabarmati Ashram
Mahatma Gandhi at the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad

White, I realized was not a mere colour here but the very soul of a place resonating in righteousness, ahimsa and truth... the essence that painted the entire life and character of a man we fondly call Bapu - The Father of Our Nation – Mahatma Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

Red

It's called the Pink City of India but the more I traveled to this beautiful part of India and observed its people and their culture, I realized that red is actually the dominating color here. Jaipur is home to numerous celebrations and festivals, ingrained in the very life of people and red being the color of auspiciousness forms an important part of it.

Colorful pots in the Pink City -Jaipur
Pots - A Symbol of Celebrations and Togetherness

These red coloured pots with religious inscriptions of faith are sold in many parts of the city and I learnt that they are used in colorful festivals like Teej and Gangaur when people come together to partake in various rites and rituals. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that these pots represent the very spirit of the city – that of joy, celebration and togetherness.

According to the rules of the game, I am passing this forward to 5 of my fellow buddy bloggers -

1. Rupam Sarma @ http://www.rupamsarma.blogspot.com
2. Richa Kholkute @ http://richaroams.com
4.  @ http://thecinnamonjourney.blogspot.in

But the good part is that anyone can take this up even without the tag; the last date is 29th August and there are some cool prizes up for grabs! So, if you find this interesting, go ahead and take it up. Show me the colours from your travel lens. I am eagerly waiting to see them!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Ancient Tungareshwar Shiva Temple in Vasai, Mumbai during Shravan

‘Chadai ka asli aanand to chal ke jaane me hi hai… lekin rickshaw bhi jaata hai (The real joy of the climb is to walk all the distance... but rickshaws can also take you there)’, says our rickshaw driver as he drives us through the busy traffic of Mumbai from the Vasai station to the base of the Tungareshwar hills (Sadanand Ashram), the start point for our journey. From here, a 3 km climb uphill would take us to our destination - A 100 yr old temple which can either be covered by private vehicle, rickshaws or on foot.

Bappa SitaRam Ashram, Tungareshwar temple in Vasai, Mumbai
Sadanand Ashram

Dating a complete decade back in time, the Tungareshwar temple quietly sits atop one of the highest mountain plateau in the Vasai region of Mumbai – the Tungareshwar hills - at an altitude of 2177 ft. in a small patch of peace and quiet.

We heed to our rickshaw wallah’s advice, let out a call of ‘Bum Bum Bhole’ and start our Tungareshwar yatra... on foot.


Rice fields,Tungareshwar temple in Vasai, Mumbai
Rice field plantations by the villagers of the area, at the base of the hills

The moment we step on the muddy tracks of the hills leading to our destination, all the busy noise and honking of the traffic outside is lost. The place is tranquil and silent; it’s a world isolated; a world unto itself. There is not a single soul in picture. It comes as a surprise (and delight!) as the temple especially boasts of a good crowd during the sacred Shiva month of Shravan (July - August) and the festival of Shivratri (Feb-March). Early morning of a weekend perhaps, we reason out.

One of the streams at the Tungareshwar temple in Vasai, Mumbai
Goat - Our lone companion in the initial stages of the climb

The irregular tracks are canopied by huge trees and lined with dense vegetation on either side.

Climb to the Tungareshwar temple in Vasai, Mumbai
Climb to the Tungareshwar temple in Vasai, Mumbai
Walking under the umbrella of nature

Overhead is the window... our only window to the outside world - An overcast grey sky seen through the tiny gaps in the canopied panes that nature has left open for us.

Grey skies at the Tungareshwar temple in Vasai, Mumbai
Overcast weather

A few minutes into the climb, and we realize that quietude is an unofficial rule followed here, by everyone. So, the leaves don’t rustle and the birds, barring a few occasional chirps, mostly keep to themselves.

Beautiful landscape to the Tungareshwar temple in Vasai, Mumbai
Hear the silence speak!

Even the two shallow streams and two miniature waterfalls that we come across are mellowed in nature. I later learn that one of them is the famous Tungareshwar waterfall which is also a very famous picnic spot. The waters in mixed shades of green, brown and white makes its way down quietly yet animatedly as if taking pride of having the eternal bliss to continually flow by the feet of the Lord.

A stream at Tungareshwar temple in Vasai, Mumbai
The Tungareshwar waterfalls at the Tungareshwar temple in Vasai, Mumbai
Top:One of the streams; Below:Tungareshwar Waterfall
... I stand mesmerized ...

Somewhere mid way, we finally sense activity – A lone shop selling tea and snacks, a rick trudging down the mountain, a motorcycle bumpily moving up and a few devotees treading on foot, in groups of two or four.

A rickshaw trudges along at the Tungareshwar temple in Vasai, Mumbai
A rickshaw trudges along

Forested area taking us to the Tungareshwar temple in Vasai, Mumbai
Devotees walking towards the temple

Some of them are heading in the opposite direction, red marks of vermillion on their foreheads – they have had the blessings of the Baba.

Devotees climbing down - Tungareshwar temple in Vasai, Mumbai
Heading back... Content and Happy

After 45 minutes of climbing, we finally reach the hillock where a signage indicates that Yes! This is the place – the abode of the Bholenath – The Tungareshwar Temple. At this point, as if on divine cue, the till now silent clouds burst into peals of laughter and huge drops of rain come pouring down. Getting soaked at the grounds of Lord Shiva during Shravan, moments before meeting Him – We feel blessed to get a sanctified welcome.


The Tungareshwar temple in Vasai, Mumbai
The Tungareshwar Temple

The temple sits coyly nestled in the beautifully landscaped garden of nature giving it an ethereal look.  At the dome, a trishul (trident) stands impressively against the skyline.

The trident impressively standing against the skyline, Tungareshwar temple in Vasai, Mumbai
The trident on the temple dome

As we near the temple, I hear loud clanging of cymbals and ringing of temple bells. I try to rush in but when I enter the temple hall, the sound has ceased to exist. The prayers have concluded but a bright flame from the arti (prayer) lamp is still glowing in the room.

The aarti lamp at the Tungareshwar temple in Vasai, Mumbai
The prayer lamp glows in the temple

The temple room is small and devoid of any elaborate ornamentation, just the way Lord Shiva likes His abodes to be – plain, bare and simple. On either sides of the hall, priests indulge themselves in prayer ceremonies for themselves as well for the devotees.

Priests performing prayers at the Tungareshwar temple in Vasai, Mumbai
Priests and pilgrims praying to the Lord

Photo frames of Lord Ganesha, Goddess Durga and Lord Ram hang from the ceiling wall. In the center of the temple is the Nandi Bull, the vehicle of Lord Shiva sitting steady as His guard. Above Him hangs a huge bell. I ring it to announce my arrival and stand in the modest queue in a bid to get His darshan.

A Nandi Bull at the Tungareshwar temple in Vasai, Mumbai
Lord Shiva's vehicle - The Nandi Bull

Beautifully decorated in minimalistic works of colorful glass, the sanctum room is small and dark. A diminutive diya (lamp) light flickers in the near distance. In the center is the main ling – Lord Shiva - with a huge serpent (in brass) coiled around it. Flowers, bil patras (wood apple leaves dear to Lord Shiva) offered by the pilgrims are scattered around it and the fragrance of the incense sticks lingers in the room. A brass pot called dharanatra hangs above; water trickling down from an outlet at its base drop by drop over the ling.

The main Shivling at the Tungareshwar temple in Vasai, Mumbai
The Shivling in the Tungareshwar Temple sanctum room
"He is most easily pleased of all Gods and grants you with all your wishes.Pour milk on Him, chant the Shiva mantra and pray sincerely."
The words of my mother play in my mind as I kneel down and let out a tiny flow of milk from my milk bag that I have carried all the way from my house. Then, I pause and take my moments to connect with the creator.

Out of the temple after the prayers, a board directs us towards the Jag Mata temple. Curious to see it, we climb a few fleets of stairs to reach the temple. At the entrance, stands a statue of ‘Happy Man’ and a few deities in orange colored stone are neatly arranged below it.


The entrance of the Jagmata Temple - Tungareshwar temple in Vasai, Mumbai
The entrance of the Jagmata temple

A torrent of water flows down from the mouth of the Nandi.

Water flows from the mouth of the nandi bull, Tungareshwar temple in Vasai, Mumbai
Water flows out of the mouth of the Nandi Bull

The temple itself is peaceful and has a lion statue, the vehicle of the Goddess in the centre of the hall right across the serene face of the mother in the sanctum area.

The Lion vehicle of maa Jagmata, Tungareshwar temple in Vasai, Mumbai
Lion - The vehicle of Ma Jagmata

In the sanctum sanctorum sits the Mother of the Universe, Maa Jagmata keeping an eye on the activities of all Her children.

Jagmata temple, Tungareshwar temple in Vasai - Mumbai
The deity of the Jagmata at the Tungareshwar temple in Vasai, Mumbai
Ma Durga as Ma Jagmata - The Mother of the Universe

Down again, some monkeys loiter around feeding on the chana and chips that the devouts offer.

A man affectionately feeds a monkey - Tungareshwar temple in Vasai, Mumbai
Monkeys in the compound

A bit exhausted by now, we decide to catch a rickshaw on our way down,

Rickshaw ride back to Mumbai - Tungareshwar temple in Vasai, Mumbai
Ride back home

Rs. 50 is what he asks... 

The charge for taking us out from a sanctuary of peace and harmony back into the jungle of chaos and concrete.

Getting There and Distance: How to reach Tungareshwar

1. Best time to visit the place – Monsoons (June - September). Preferably early mornings if you wish to avoid the crowds.

2. From the Vasai station to the base of the hills: Share rickshaws plying from the Vasai Station (East) take you to the base of the hills – Sadanand Ashram. Fixed fare – Rs.25/person.


However, you can also hire it all for yourself in which case the charges go up but they are still negotiable – Rs. 125.

3. Climb from Ashram to the temple: Separate rickshaws have to be hired from here. Charges – Rs. 150 (negotiable).
Cars are also allowed. My recommendation, dump these options and walk the distance, takes around 45 minutes and with all the scenic views around, you won’t really feel it.

4. Carry your own foodstuffs and water from home. There are hardly any shops during the trek. However, you can get things once you reach the top.


Related links and Other Lord Shiva temples covered in My Yatra diary -

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