Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Ancient Jogeshwari Shiva Caves in Mumbai during Shravan

Chappal ithe soda aani ya line madhe ubhe raha.
(Leave  your slippers here and stand in this queue.)

I do as the policeman directs.

A few paces into the queue, barefoot and more abandonment follows. The fast lanes drift behind and the light of the day fades away. With this begins my journey into a world historic, deep and different.

Darshan queue at the Jogeshwar Mahadeo temple during Shravan, Mumbai
The journey begins: The queue to the Jogeshwari caves in Mumbai
Sitting in the heart of Jogeshwari (E), the western suburbs of Mumbai, the Jogeshwari Shiva caves are a world unto itself. Dating back to the 6th century, the caves are so ancient that they can easily give an antiquity complex to its more profound siblings - the Ajanta and Ellora caves of Maharashtra. Surrounded by dilapidated structures and nondescript shanties, the caves neatly tuck themselves in from the hurly burly bondages of life, a place where the outside world ceases to matter.

Moving past the shanties towards the cave, I can't help but see the metaphor: aren't these shanties like the state of lives we are living today? ...sturdy outside, somehow holding onto the ground yet fragile, weak and decrepit inside. But, there is always a way, and we shall arrive only if we are willing to move in the right direction.

Darshan queue at the Jogeshwar Mahadeo temple during Shravan, Mumbai
With the faithful: Walking in the queue towards the caves.
My way is strewn with lessons of tremendous patience and unwavering faith as I make tiny strides along with hundreds of others standing in the queue. It's the big day of Shravan Monday (July-August) and a special day (His personal favorite!) to receive His blessings, and I am looking forward to visit the comforting realms of His house – the Jogeshwari caves - trying my best bit to catch all the action – of doodh (milk), bilva patra (sacred leaves of bel), phool (flowers), mantras (chants) and people. Needless to say, I get it all – in abundance.

Girls at the Jogeshwar Mahadeo temple during Shravan, Mumbai
Everyone is eager to meet the Lord!

A few more paces and soon, the decrepit structures vanish in the distance giving way to the gleaming entrance of the cave illuminated by the filtering rays of the early morning sun. I climb down a flight of stairs and darkness greets me into the courtyard of the cave. It is only 7.00 in the morning but I realize I’m already late. A daunting swarm of people are flocking everywhere my eyes can see. Along with a deep sigh, my heart lets out a silent cry of 'Om Namah Shivay' and I gear myself up to mingle with the pilgrim crowd.

Inside the Jogeshwari caves during Shravan, Mumbai
Om Namah Shivay! First glimpse after stepping foot inside the cave.

The cave houses a number of Gods and Goddesses within its precincts – the Jogeshwari Mata, the Jogeshwar Mahadeo and the Ganesh temple among others. The first among them to make an appearance is the temple of Jogeshwari Mata right across the entrance. Here, one can see Her footprints and an image that is a form of Shakti, and is venerated as the local deity of the locality, the Kuldevi after which the area gets its name. This temple has two ganas or guardians of Lord Shiva carved in the rock and seated at the entrance to protect the Goddess.

Jogeshwari Mata temple - Mumbai
Let's pay our respects to Jogeshwar Mata far in the distance.

Age old carvings at the Jogeshwari caves during Shravan, Mumbai
The security guard of the mata: In stone.
I thank mother for calling me here before proceeding further. The serpentine queues are huge and many in number. People from all walks of life gender, status and age no bar – are all standing as one with a single pursuit - to meet the Lord.  The numbers are overwhelming but as I walk and weave with them, the feeling I get is far from exhausted. On the other hand, it’s that of wonder and stimulation, of oneness and belonging, of spiritual renewal and of positive spark of finding the hidden wisdom that resides within each one of us.

People in queue at the Jogeshwari caves during Shravan, Mumbai
The Power of One: In faith and belief!
A young devotee at the Jogeshwari caves during Shravan, Mumbai
An epitome of purity and divinity. What do you say?

The room is never overly noisy but is filled with a constant hum of hushed chants and pulsating murmers. Most of the people keep to themselves, silent and introspecting, perhaps keeping in accordance to the meditative ways of Lord Shiva. With them, they carry a lota (brass vessel), filed with either water or milk, and clutch it secure so as to not spill a single drop outside. The lota somehow ceases to be a mere utensil today. It is much more significant reflecting a sincere prayer, a resurrection of faith and a quest – to seek His divine grace and ask for sincere repentance.

A woman with a lota at the Jogeshwar Mahadeo temple during Shravan, Mumbai
The sacred treasure: The lota which holds the jal for the Lord.

The interiors of the cave are not in a good condition with most the stones torn off at various places exposing different shades of whites, grey and black. You can’t help but feel sad for the neglect its borne for it's a national heritage. I roll my hands over the stone slabs and rocks protruding out of the cave walls and marvel at them from time to time. It’s earthy and unsophisticated textures are convincing enough of His humble existence inside.

A pillar at the Jogeshwari caves during Shravan, MumbaiCeiling of the Jogeshwari Shiva caves, Mumbai
 Torn walls of the Jogeshwari Shiva caves, Mumbai
Wear and tear:  But no one to take care, restore or repair?

Time ticks by... it's already about 3 hours of treading in the caves. Finally, a ray of light appears at the end of the deep tunnel, a ray of hope bringing with itself an anticipated surcharge of energy in the devotees. The air is now thick with eagerness; the woman ahead of me jumps into action getting her lota ready with milk and a few colorful flowers. Lord Shiva is now only a few steps away.

A woman at the Jogeshwari caves during Shravan, Mumbai
Lord looks forward to meeting His ardent followers as well

At the Jogeshwar Mahadeo temple, a huge bell hangs at the entrance. Below, the Nandi bull, the vehicle of Lord Shiva sits guard while pictures of lord Shiva in various forms hangs at the side walls. Inside the sanctum is the shivling - a black colored stone characterizing the three eyed Lord of the universe – Lord Shiva. Above the shivling, hangs a dhanetra from which milk drips bit by bit onto the ling. Devotees offer milk, flowers and bilva leaves and pray for peace and prosperity.

Jogeshwar Mahadeo Temple at Jogeshwari Shiva caves in Mumbai during Shravan
Jogeshwar Mahadeo Temple: Home of the Lord

The moments are few but they are prized and precious. These are moments of peace and fulfillment; moments of connectedness with the Divine… with one’s own self. I kneel down, clasp my hands and close my eyes. I’m in front of Him.

On the way out, I come across a courtyard housing an exhibition of colorful rangolis and ancient carved relics of ganas or guards of the temple. A little further is the temple of Lord Ganesha, the son of Lord Shiva.

An ancient sculpting at the Jogeshwari caves during Shravan, Mumbai
Lord Shivagana sculpture  at the Jogeshwari caves during Shravan, Mumbai
The guards keep an eye: The Ganas of Lord Shiva
Rangoli of trident at the Jogeshwar Mahadeo temple during Shravan, Mumbai
 Rangoli of Lord Ganesha at the Jogeshwar Mahadeo temple during Shravan, Mumbai
Beautiful decorations or Rangolis:
Dumroo with a trident, a musical instrument of Lord Shiva (top)
and Lord Ganesha (below)
Lord Shiva with His Son Ganesha in the Jogeshwari caves courtyard in Mumbai
In the courtyard, outside the cave
Lord Ganesha Temple in Jogeshwari caves, Mumbai
Lord  Ganesha in the courtyard
The Ganpati temple leads me to the exit. I ascend a fleet of stairs and I find the tranquility of the caves loosing away within the chatter of the outside world. Stepping back feels like a rebirth where the enveloping womb of the mystical caves has given way to the harsher realities of life. And, here is where the real journey begins, of identifying the real self in this mirage of the world. But He shall guide, as He's the father - benevolent and compassionate.

Jogeshwari Mahadeo Shiva caves, Mumbai

It's time to move on... to flap the wings again and soar high in the sky,
but with a renewed hope, that this time...
.. it shall be with a difference.

Getting There and Distance: How to reach Jogeshwari Caves

1. From the Jogeshwari station (Western Railway Line / East) to the temple caves: Hire a rickshaw for minimal fare or walk the 3 km distance on foot, it's not really far. Ask for directions, the locals know the place well.

2. There are no shops inside the cave.If you are visiting during the festival times, the queues can be really large, so be prepared. Carry some water from home.

3. Best time to visit the place: Shravan Monsoons (June - September) or Shivratri (February) to catch the festively divine atmosphere. Preferably early mornings if you wish to avoid the crowds.

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

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Thursday, August 7, 2014

Whispering in the Ears of Shiva's Nandi Bull this Shraavan

As I lean forward to softly hum my wishes in His ears, I feel myself detaching from the chaos of the world outside. It is like stepping into a quiet room – filled with peace, pin drop silence. Like Meditation or chanting a mantra. When your mind loses sight of itself and begins to transcend, gradually tapping the core zone of fanatical happiness. It’s in those silent moments, I feel His power… and a connection is established - me with the divine, me with myself…

And, me with the Nandi!

Who is Nandi?

Nandi is the divine bull, the vehicle of His Master, Lord Shiva and His primary devotee. He reveres His Master, and He adores Him. So much that the two are inseparable. His appearance is full of charm, His demeanor – authoritative. Oh well, He is a God in His own right! Like a security sentinel, He guards the entry gate to the abode of Shiva - devotees always seek His blessings before proceeding to Shiva.

Nandi Bull of ancient Tungareshwar temple in Mumbai
Hello, Nandi!
Like one drop in a huge ocean, I have merged with a swarm of devotees gathered at the local Shiva temple to seek His blessings. In spite of the crowd, I can feel Lord Shiva’s presence around during this point in time. He is on a journey, from His abode in the Himalayas to mine, the earth.

I walk a small distance, barefoot, to join the queue of the faithful, brimming with devotion and joy. The queue moves in an unhurried manner. And, so do I. Restless, with bilwa patra in my hands and a prayer on my lips, waiting for my meeting with the Lord.

In this holy month of Shraavan, I am on my road to The Shiva and as always, it shall pass through The Nandi.

Bilwa patra leaves and flowers offered to the Nandi Bull
Bilwa patra, leaves offered to the Lord
Finding Nandi

You don’t really find Him. He is simply there, everywhere. Like a swirling orb of shadow clinging to the sun’s light. Like a celestial star dancing in the twinkle of the night. Ardently following His master - Shiva.

Shiva temples with the Nandi Bull in tow
Shiva temples in my travels: Can you find Nandi? 
Attributes like size and color can vary though. Take for example, The Bull temple in Bangalore – one really has to go to this temple to see how the giganticity of the deity of Nandi breathes life in the mythical stories that do the rounds there.

Here, He is life-like, one of the largest in the world, born out of a single granite monolith measuring 4.5 m in height and 6.5 m in length and black in color. The temple tallies as one of the oldest in the country drawing a large number of believers all round the year. The Nandi Bull of Chamunda Hills in Mysore is another such example.

Nandi Bull of the Bull Temple in Bangalore
Nandi Bull in Bangalore: Isn't He HUGE?
(image courtesy: Clara Arnold @
Finally, somewhere along the line, I meet Him – The Nandi.

He is sitting facing the main shrine venerating Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, in a regal manner. I notice His leg, right one, raised slightly. I remember someone telling me, this signifies the value of Dharma in today’s era (Kaliyuga). I follow his gaze - it is fixated firmly on His master - one snap of His Master’s finger and He is alert enough to get up and get moving. I stand in awe and admiration of His principles and faithfulness. I place a bilwa patra in His feet, and bow my head in devotion.

Standing upright again, I cup my lips with one of my palms and lean forward this time. I whisper a wish. I try to pour my heart. For I know, depending on my sincerity, the wish shall be carried it to the Lord. 

Nandi in the Puranas

Besides the temples, one can find Nandi in various Hindu Puranas and Sacred Hindu Texts as well. One of my favorite stories revolving around Nandi takes us back to a dice game between Shiva and Parvati. Parvati had won the game but following a disagreement, Nandi was asked to intervene. Surprisingly, He declared Shiva as the winner. This unfair judgement infuriated Parvati and she cursed him to suffer from a deadly disease.

Nandi apologized and confessed to His doing along with a justification that He could not bear declaring His Master as a looser. It was against loyalty.

This explanation warmed Parvati’s heart and she decided to lift the curse off Nandi. She asked Him to offer something that was most dear to him to His son Ganesha, next Chaturdashi as a way out of the curse. Nandi did as suggested. On the next Chaturdashi, He offered green grass (the staple of a bull) to Ganesha and was relieved of his disease. The practice of offering durva (green grass) to please Lord Ganesha continues till this date.

No matter where you find Him... in lesser known temples or the more celebrated ones or even the puranas, all you need to do is take cover in His shadow and He holds an assurance to enlighten you in a certain way. Let go of your worldly desires, confess your sins and appreciate the lessons he holds – of uprightness and purity, of loyalty and wisdom, of tamed desires and resulting unrestrictive joys – and you realize how these are the very keys to getting close to Shiva, His Master, the consciousness, the eternal creator. ‘The Lord of Joy’, He inspires us to embrace a path that promises liberation from the material world.

As I speak in His ears… the concentric vibrations of my whisper and echo that emanates, can be felt, almost seen filling the directions all around with an animated power. It is as if He has released an acknowledgement of pushing forward my case with a desired purpose. It happens each and every time I whisper in His ears. Each and every time we connect.

Whispering in the ears of the Nandi Bull in Shraavan month of Shiva
Whispering in the ear of the Nandi
What do you wish for, Arti? … they ask,
… What all have you achieved?

Nothing. I shrug.

Infact, I have lost a bit of everything –

... annoyance, frustration, apprehensions and impatience.

And for that, I thank The Nandi.


"Om Mahakalyam Mahaveeryam,
Shiva Vahanam Outatmama
Gananamtwa pratham vande 
Nandishwaram Mahabalam"

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A Traveller’s Guide To Phuket, Thailand

Phuket, Thailand’s largest island rich in nature’s bounty, has become one of the most sought after tourist destinations in Southeast Asia and for this reason, it is flocked by countless tourists from all over the world who want to experience a one of a kind tourist destination.

(image courtesy:

Putting this factor into consideration, Phuket International Airport has become very busy as of late as it is easily one of the best ways to get to the island. Making this easier are a number of domestic airlines flying in and out of the town offering their Phuket flights relatively cheap prices so that a large number of travellers and tourists can fly over to have the time of their lives.

So, if you want to experience a unique vacation that is just one for the books, you can check this travel guide and achieve a fun and hassle-free Phuket vacation. It contains some of the iconic attractions that you shouldn’t dare miss.

Wat Suwan Kuha Temple

(image courtesy:

Wat Suwan Kuha Temple is a historic place of worship that attracts countless tourists because of its unique location. It is built inside a cave and has a huge reclining Buddha that can be viewed from different angles. Visiting this place is spiritual experience that you’ll cherish for a very long time.

James Bond Island

Known as the island of Koh Tapu, it got its moniker—James Bond Island—because the Hollywood film, “The Man With the Golden Gun” was shot there.

 (image courtesy:

Daily trips are scheduled in the island but to make sure that you’ll have a stress-free travel, it would be best if you’ll rent your own boat. By doing so, you can experience the limestone formations of Koh Tapu that are simple picture perfect.

Old Phuket Town

(image courtesy: Willy Thuan

Old Phuket Town is a low-key area that is known for its vintage appeal despite the presence of a number of modern business establishments in the area. There you’ll find old printing presses, bookstores, and kiosks that sell different kinds of goods. You’ll also find restaurants, diners, and coffee shops that serve affordable food that will tickle your taste buds.


The above mentioned attractions are only some of the places that will spice up your Phuket vacation. There are so many others that you should visit while holidaying and they’ll definitely give you a run for your money when it comes to injecting a sense of enjoyment in your trip.

All in all, boredom is the least of your concerns if your Phuket, Thailand trip pushes through.

Fast Facts:

1. Phuket is located approximately 862 kilometres south of Bangkok.
2. There are only two seasons in a year the green season (May to October) and the hot season (November to April).
3. Phuket is divided into 3 administrative districts: namely, Amphoe Muang, Amphoe Thalang and Amphoe Kathu.

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post for which I have received a compensation. Regardless, I publish only because I recommend or use something personally and believe in the goodness of it.
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Sunday, July 27, 2014

An Aromatic Ode to Rajasthan: The Earthy Beauty!

I met her rarely… mostly during my summer vacations. Still she never failed to do this to me. The moment I touched her sun kissed skin, it was as if an earthing absorbed all my worries and tensions away and put me in a state of eternal joy and bliss.

I always tried to find this out… what was it about her that did this to me? Was it because I was the child of her womb? Or it could be the chatter of the Rajasthani women – cloaked in a ghoonghat or was it the magic of the dancing dunes that mesmerized me while I wandered around. Or maybe it was the odd camel who (always!) smiled beatifically as he clip clopped his way past my window or was it something else - an aspect that I had never cared to discover about her?

That trip of 2007 to my ancestral village in Rajasthan changed my perspectives; the smells inspired me... revealing her in a way I had never seen her to be. Something about her was intensely and insanely gorgeous this time. Something that I never could figure out after all my encounters with her. Something that was not in no way like the tourist brochures always claimed it to be. May be in parts - yes, but certainly not entirely. Something… that was something more. A matter of the mind perhaps. An untapped, unclaimed territory neatly contained, revealed only to those who had the audacity to step further and the oddity to dig deeper.

I rolled down the windows of my car soon after it hit the red mud tarmac. A gust of chilly January breeze combed my hair, sweeping through a vast landscape of rolling dunes stretching into infinity. At first it smelled nothing. Then it smelled something. A tantalizing fragrance rising from the earth, one that was rustic, fresh and mystical – all at the same time; the fragrance invaded my soul and senses in no time.

This earthen, dusky beauty was immaculate, unsullied; it was intoxicating, almost addictive. I loved the scent of it. The best part – it chased me for the entire trip, no matter where I went.

Dadaji’s Haveli

I stayed in my Dadaji’s ancestral house where he had lovingly spent a few years of his life. A massive Banyan tree standing right beside the thick iron gates at the entrance invited me in. Huge cobwebs hanging from the ceiling bore the stamp of abandon. Rusted locks slept on many of the rooms inside, deserted and motionless to eerie silence around. The haveli had not been opened for around 3 years or so. A heavy grinding stone sat idle right across the 3 legged charpoy in another. But it was the Tulsi pot that caught my attention. The same pot which once bloomed with the sacred plant nurtured by my grandpa, today, was no more. It lay bare, naked with the words Ram randomly inscribed. Moving my palms around the pot in reverence, I offered a few drops of water and the soil soaked it up all in.

That same scent of earthiness again – I felt it entice the deepest corners of my heart.

The house resonated in an all encompassing silence and yet I heard him. I felt his presence and I heard his voice - He was speaking to me through a language which transcended corporeal boundaries of existence and extinction – fragrance of his mitti which he had nurtured with his love and which in turn had fostered his devotion all life.

House temple – no idol or picture. Just a coat of geru.

I offered my prayers at the mand – a small structure housing our family god - the ancestral temple dedicated to our lineage deity located on the open terrace. I squatted on the uneven floor and creaked open the pretty little temple door. There was no idol inside, not even a photo. But an image - hand painted with geru (wet mud) on the chuna coated walls.

A whiff of earthiness hit me, again.

Many strands of sacred red threads called moli in varying sizes and lengths decked the walls of the sanctum. As I closed my eyes and muttered a silent prayer for me and my near and dear ones, the one that I had learnt from dadiji as a kid, I felt the presence of a higher force. Perhaps I had been hallucinating, what with me having traveled nonstop for the last 16 hours. Or was it for real? - The power of a force higher than us - The God?

Perhaps the molis weren't as ordinary as they had initially seemed to be. After all, these were diffident bundles of faith and beliefs tied since hundreds of years ago, perhaps even more. I guess it were the same beliefs that cumulated as stories and legends which my grandma narrated to me in my summer vacations. Even today, I could hear her soft whispers swirling around bringing those stories alive. I closed my eyes and clasped my hands tighter. Beneath the deep blue skies beaming with a golden sunshine, the breeze permeated my senses.

I felt blessed.

Local bazaars: Surahi

I plunged lazily into the warren of the local bazaars where heaps of vegetables were set on display and piles of spices lay for sale. But it was the fragrance of wet mud wafting on the village breeze that drew me into a tiny pottery shop. Amid a sea of mutkas – decorated by colors red, golden, brown – I saw women immersed in coloring pots while men waiting for the customers. Brown colored surahis with their artistic lion shaped mouth and a narrow trunk bowled me over. There was a reason. The surahi would provide me with cool water all through the year, claimed the grizzled craftswoman as she prepared to hand it over with a smile so wide that it amplified the folds on her face. A testimony to the hardships she had borne all her life, isolated from the outside world. And yet her face glowed with a sense of rich contentment. And her face radiated in a smile that lit her eyes. And warmed my senses.

That scent of earthiness, again.

It was not only about the surahi, which was now mine. But also equally about the mitti that had gone into its making – the sweat of labor, the talent of the craftsmen, and a connection to their roots.

A cup of chai and a bear hug

I drank tea with the cow herders of the village and swapped stories with them. I was amused by the sight of the watered down cow dung cakes drying in the courtyard outside the brick mud thatched roofs. These dried to a smooth hard surface on which they would thrash the harvested grains. Just before parting, she grasped my shoulder to bring me closer, and I immediately sniffed the aroma arising from her henna decorated hands which had been freshly ground and prepared by her own self.

That same earthy beauty again.

She laughed heartily and hugged me like a bear. I never wanted to leave, I could spend hours in that balmy embrace but I realized this was the nature of a yatra. I bid farewell but not without taking something along that would never part my being – the scent of the earthy beauty, a concoction of her henna dyed hands and the dried cow dung cakes in the courtyard. A smell that was real, warm and humanizing in a certain way.

Evening times brought me back to the haveli courtyard where bonfires were lit up and strains of music regaled in the air. The village was a family and it humbled me to realize, I was a part of them. A temporary stove was put out with wood and bricks to cook the food in the open. It was a time to leave all the sorrows and disappointments behind. Instead it was a time of sharing, caring and bonding over daal baati choorma, jalebi and mangodi ki kadhi. The slow drifting air carried the music and the aroma of food billowing up from the huge heated cauldrons. Filled with love and the same earthiness that had now become my companion for the journey.

The fragrance just didn't stop in Rajasthan – the stories and the sights carrying it, many. It wafted out from the parched blistered skin of the earth, swiped across radiant smiles, seeped through the fables of lore and swirled around vast heating cauldrons. No matter where I went, this fragrance dogged my steps and stuck to my memory. I couldn't help but drool over a sense I could barely figure out – something I chose to label as earthy over time – it tickled my traveler’s senses. This earthy beauty was as much a part of the city as the rustic havelis and the rolling dunes – as it is now mine… a fragrance that swaddles copiously every time I think of her, even now, while I write this piece … cocooned in the concrete of my house enjoying the pitter patter on the tin roof outside.

Aromatic Earthy Memories: An Ode to Rajasthan ... A Photo Montage

Glossary words:

Chuna - Limestone
Dadaji - Grandfather
Dadiji - Grandmother
Geru - Red-ochre colored mud, generally considered pure, hence used to paint images of Lord
Ghoonghat - veil
Haveli - Ancestral house
Mand - Ancestral temple belonging to local lineage
Mitti - Mud
Moli - Red sacred thread

PS: This post is my entry for a contest held by IndiBlogger in association with Godrejaer - details here >>
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Friday, July 4, 2014

My experience with!

I heard about, a site for passionate car lovers, through IndiBlogger recently where we were asked to share our road trips in order to experience the site.

As I was thinking of a road trip that I could share, I never quite realized when my thoughts sparked off into a montage loop spinning a yard of memories of all those moments that I'd spent with her ......

The Ambassador. She was our unofficial yatra car (though hired, but we always took the same one!), pure white steely body, recently washed and a body so sturdy that could give any heavy weight wrestler a run for his money.

Boy, I still remember, how her mere mention would make the wings of my heart flutter! With the car came a practical sense of liberation. She introduced me to the world outside. And later taught me to be the person I really am: curious, cocooned yet free in spirit. 

I also remember how with liberation, came a host of other things. Like an urge to share my trips, stories and pictures. Trips that were waiting to be written. Stories that were waiting to be heard. Pictures that were waiting to be shared. With anyone and everyone who was in love with the wheels, the crackle of the engine and the breath of fresh air......

Ah, her memories! Sometimes I wish I had some sort of an outlet back then where I could have documented and framed all my car experiences so that my travel trips could have freed themselves from the dimensions of time and instead entered the realms of immortality.

This is where a site like Carconnect grabs my attention today, a site that is tapping this very cavernous space with ease. When I first heard about it, I was like, argh! not another one of those social media sites again! But then, I quickly realized this one was for me – simple, straightforward, cutting across all the time wasting traps that generally take place on other such sites, usually under the gab of networking, that come over loaded with features that I take ages to understand. The first look!

So what exactly makes Carconnect tick? Read on, I will let my experience speak.

First, let’s meet Car Connect!

Carconnect is a meeting hub for all things ‘car’ and for all people who are passionate about them. On Carconnect, you can share your car experiences whether it’s a road trip you had taken in one of your vacations from Mumbai to Mussorie by road or you can gather the latest news and gauge the qualified drift of your favorite cars.

When we speak of sharing, experiences can be anything as long as they are taken in a car and can be written in a way as if we were narrating them to our friends – all barriers of formal toning unplugged.

Like for example, I shared one of my trips to the char dham in the Himalayas and uploaded a few pictures to go along!

My Road trip experience of char dham in the Himalayas.

The pictures align themselves towards the bottom of the post in a linear fashion, so instead of inane selfies and pretty sunsets, your focus remains on the actual travelogue, thus making reading an enriching experience. Most of the shared experiences have a lot of detailing and purpose ingrained like the model of the car used and the itineraries followed so that it helps a traveler gear their trips better.

My uploaded pictures for the trip.

And, that exactly is what I think is the best thing that I LOVE about Carconnect - its ability to help and inspire a swarm of travel and automobile enthusiasts to TRAVEL!

Experiences are grouped according to the places traveled or the cars used which are then listed as a cloud tag on the home page which basically acts as a searching index. I like how this tag feature is made to cover most of the home page so that it is the first thing to strike my eye – Carconnect connects us to the cars as soon as we are in. When I first logged in, Shirdi was the first tag I clicked and here is a snapshot of a few stories I liked reading.

You know, it’s been quite a while since I went there and these posts really made my travel feet itch, real bad!

What I like

Carconnect has a really simple interface — it’s easy, minimalist and clean – a must for me to get started. This allows you to really get down to what you would love doing best – connect with other car lovers around the globe.

Having said that, it packs in enough for its simple appearance.

The leaderboard badge scoring system for instance, is another feature that I liked about the site. And the reason for this is because I love perks – especially when they are also challenging and gratifying in nature. Carconnect integrates this aspect by awarding platinum, diamond, gold, silver and bronze badges - You unlock them by adding more experiences thereby gaining access to exclusive privileges for yourself.

Leaderboard postion: I know, I can do better!

Okay, I face it. But since this is not something to brag about, promise me you will keep this a secret! I possess a bronze badge for now, which simply means I am probably languishing somewhere behind in the leaderboard competition, which is not a very good thing I know but having a badge scoring system displayed on the home page and a dedicated leader board has honestly motivated me to share more road trips from my yatra bag. And I am sure I will be doing it soon. After all, one of the reasons I am here, is to inspire and features like these add just that extra zing to help do our job better.

What else do I love about Carconnect?

This was among the latter features I noticed, since this was filed under news, something I usually glance by. I can be termed a lazy newspaper surfer at best, so you can imagine. But a few pieces I read there caught my eye. Like this one: Hydrogen, a fuel which produces electricity but emits only water; can it be the fuel of the future? –

Car news: We can share our news too!

Whoa! Isn't that interesting? I never knew about it. Did you? 

Just next to the news tab, I happened to click the extensive ‘Compare Cars’ feature which gives you quality snapshots of the two cars that you wish to compare complete with web sourced constructive links and first hand user reviews. This is really valuable when you are looking to buy a brand new car for yourself but even without it, it definitely can increase your knowledge. Take me for example, I started comparing two of my favorite cars Tata Sumo Grande and Tata Safari Gronde and I was glad to know their relative strengths and weaknesses, an aspect I was completely oblivious to.

The brownie chip

No matter how good the concept is or how easy the navigation, there are times when I feel utterly lost and helpless in locating a piece of information on a site I am browsing. It's just that sometimes the information might get buried in a heap of other posts or at other times it's just me who is unable to uncover the information even though it is right out there, staring at me in my eyes.

My life saving tool in times like these is the search button, I don't remember how many times it's come to my rescue and each time it does, I give all due credits to the site developers for investing some thought towards tech nerds like me.

Carconnect checks this point thus scoring a brownie from me. It has a search button right up there, in the top right side of the window. The box is light, it’s handy and comes with a pretty neat drop down suggestion feature where you can search for anything, say, 'Jaipur' — and it gives you everything related by grouping it in relevant tabs, so we have 'All results' (anything mentioning Jaipur), long drive experience (road trips mentioning Jaipur) and car experiences (again trips mentioning Jaipur).

Search results for 'Jaipur'.

See, I told you, Carconnect is easy!

The drawback

My main drawback with Carconnect is that log-ins are only via FaceBook — that means you can’t step into Carconnect and try out any of its features unless you have a virtual identity on FB.

That annoyed me a bit — I am not any fan of FB and never built an identity around it but since I was still keen on trying out Carconnect, I had to make one especially for this purpose. I do have my blog FB page but I faced problems logging with it as well. I really wished Carconnect gave us more options to log in via other sources like twitter, Google plus et al so that non FB lovers like me would not feel left out instead could happily and easily enjoy this amazing portal. 

If you do have a personal FB profile though, the logging-in is pretty smooth and you should have no problem getting in.

Meet me @ Carconnect!

My two cents

I love the concept of Car Connect, I find it extremely dynamic with new stories coming in regularly, and it has been a delight to discover the site and share one of my car experiences as well — it works for me but only you can decide if it’s for you. My suggestion? Give it a try and see how you like it.

As far as I go, I liked using it. Simply because the stories I came across felt less of stories and more of heartfelt conversations. Think of friendly chats with your neighborhood friend. Plus, it’s incredibly easy so that you can start exploring in a matter of a few clicks. So, for me, this community ticks, is a ‘thumbs up’ for me.

Carconnect at this point, though still growing (scuffling a few technical snags), is pretty compact and quite engaging — useful information and interesting experiences containing friendly tips and trending news outnumber senseless prattle. In that sense, it helps the internet friendly general masses to make some very important decisions, like when choosing our next destination for our impending travel holiday or buying our dream car which we had an eye on for a very long time, and I hope that it stays this way going forward. People are certainly enticed to share their best work, as Carconnect periodically curates the content for their Top experiences and Most popular experiences.

Top experiences highlighted on the home page

The thing to keep in mind is that Carconnect is free of spammers and even though the log in is via FB – it in no way invades your private space. You have the liberty to build your own Carconnect profile which is then displayed throughout the site, and that can be good in many ways.

In such a scenario, I look forward to using Carconnect throughout my travels, whether I’m looking for a weekend getaway inspiration to escape the chaos of my city (already started planning for Shirdi!) or dreaming of a new car! (Yeah, can’t afford one right now, am that light in my pockets).

Take a look at Carconnect and let me know what you think! If you do join, leave a word here, and I’ll see you there.

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