Thursday, April 12, 2018

Food of Vrindavan: Restaurant Ammaji, Bharati Foods, Govinda, Brijwasi etc.

Vrindavan, like Mathura is a complete foodie’s paradise! It has to be. After all, it is the town of makhan chor, the connoisseur Kishan - Kanhaiya!

The scenario of the street food in Vrindavan has everything that Mathura has to offer (read my food guide on where to eat in Mathura here), in abundance. So pop up the question "Where to eat in Vrindavan?" and rest assured, one can find a whole range of those hole-in-the-wall eating joints selling a variety of milk based products and freshly cooked street chaat to savour on the road side kiosks wooing you with their peppery snacks, famous sweets and other delicacies.

The wide range of spicy chaats like kachoris and samosas, milk based products such as khurchan, mava and milk peda and the curd based sweet coolant lassi served in kulhads (earthen cups) - basically all the famous food of Uttar Pradesh - are extremely difficult to be missed when in the town. If you are not the one to be wooed by street food, then check out one of the many Vrindavan restaurants or dhabas.

Vrindavan Street Food - Lassi, Mava, Malai Kurchan, etc.
Street food of Vrindavan
A food chaat shop in Vrindavan serving lassi, pani puri, etc

On the Streets: Vrindavan food - Pani Puris, lassi, aloo tikiyas, etc.


With such a wide array of authentic Uttar Pradesh Vrindavan food around, it was quite hard for me not to get pulled by its aroma! Nothing could stop this foodie from hogging - not the calorific count, no not even the thought of uncleanness or unhealthiness - there was no one I let in between my food and me! Each lane I turned into or each street I entered, invariably had either a fully-loaded pushcart or some sweetmeat shop peeping out from somewhere and stacked with such an array of mouth watering stuffs, that it left me wondering sometimes if all of these were waiting just for me!!

So then, let us not waste any more time and see some of the best hotels and restaurants to eat in Vrindavan! Let’s get going on our Vrindavan food trail!


1. BHARTI FOODS RESTAURANT, VRINDAVAN.

The market area is filled with little local chai (tea) jaunts accompanied with those hole-in-the-wall snack / sweetmeat / mithai shops representing the exquisite flavors which Vrindavan is known for.


Bharti Food, Vrindavan restaurant
Bharti Foods - A restaurant cum sweet shop in Vrindavan.

One of them is Bharti Foods. We came here during breakfast time and tasted their jalebis and khamans. The piping hot jalebis were crusty and crisp and the spongy khamans soft and fluffy... Absolute Yummy fare!


An array of sweets stacked up at Bharti Food, a sweetmeat Vrindavan restaurant
An array of sweets lined up in Bharti Foods restaurant, Vrindavan.

Gulab jamuns in Bharti Food, a mithailwala restaurant in Vrindavan
Gulab Jamun - A syrupy sweet on sale at Bharti Foods Restaurant, Vrindavan.


It’s a huge spacious shop and serves almost everything that you will find in the streets, all at one single place under one roof. The prices are reasonable and the food is prepared freshly in the mornings. If street food is not your idea, then you might like to have a look at this particular Vrindavan resturant.

What to eat: Jalebis and Khamans in breakfast.

Address: This restaurant is near ISKCON Temple and you can get to it via the Bhaktivedanta Swami Marg, Bankebihari Colony, Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh 281121

Restaurant timings: Opens 10 AM | Closes 11 PM.

Phone No.: 098370 14080


2. HARE KRISHNA GUEST HOUSE PRASADAM,
ISKCON GOVINDA RESTAURANT, VRINDAVAN.

If you are the one who craves for hygiene and cleanliness, then think no further and head straight for the ISKCON temple in Vrindavan. Get yourself a seat in the prasadam hall (Rs. 25 for non members and free for members) serving homely satvik food.


Prasadam hall of ISKCON temple in Vrindavan
The Prasadam or lunch/dinner hall in ISKCON Temple Guest House area.

Prasadam hall of ISKCON temple, Vrindavan
Sitting area of the prasadam hall, ISKCON Hare Krishna Temple


... or sample the delicious fare at their in-house ISKCON Govinda restaurant dispensing all types of appetizing dishes to the milling devotees. Just next to Govinda’s is their bakery shop loaded with yummy cakes, croissants and little flaky pastries!


ISKCON Govinda's restaurant and Bakery shop, Vrindavan
Govinda's restaurant (left of the pic) and Bakery (right of the pic)

ISKCON GOVINDA RESTAURANT, VRINDAVAN

ISKCON Hare Krishna Govinda Restaurant, Vrindavan
Vrindavan Restaurant, ISKCON Govinda Lassi
My glass of fresh curd lassi at Govinda restaurant - yum!

ISKCON GUEST HOUSE.

In addition, just besides the main temple hall they also have a prasadam snack counter selling a variety of eatables.


Food stall in ISKCON temple, Vrindavan
Prasadam counter, besides the main ISKCON temple hall.

Samosas on sale at a food stall in ISKCON temple, Vrindavan
Samosas on sale at the prasadam counter in ISKCON Temple.


Everything served in the ISKCON temple is reasonably prized... food is great, hygienic and fresh and one is split for choices as far as the items on sale are concerned.

Take Back: Red Herbal Tea. It is something special we got from their ISKCON Govinda restaurant. We serve it to aunts, uncles, cousins, friends and almost everyone visiting our place and they never stop raving about it. Not only is it highly effective in colds and coughs but also packs you with a lot of warmth with each sip that you take. Highly recommended!

Address: Sri Krishna-Balaram Hare Krishna Mandir or more popularly ISKCON Temple is a booming oasis of spirituality in the holy city of Vrindavan. It is one of the main ISKCON temples in India and internationally and very closely associated with its founder Srila Prabhupada located a couple of minutes away from the Banke Bihari Temple. Owing to its popularity, it is not difficult to reach the temple, just ask the locals about it. Bhaktivedanta Swami Marg, Raman Reiti, Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh - 281121

Phone: 0565 254 0021

Email: info@iskconvrindavan.com



3. AMMAJI RESTAURANT, VRINDAVAN.

Ammaji's is an Indian restaurant in Vrindavan specializing in Indian, Asian and vegetarian food. Though we never tried eating here but since ammaji's menu looks tempting, it's got great ratings and reviews on Trip Advisor, it looks like good value for money and well worth a try, so I am including it in this list of 'Places to eat in Vrindavan' here.

Ammaji Restaurant Vrindavan

Deemed as one of those places serving ayurvedic organic food, this is also the place where you can find for yourself a pizza in the holy city of Vrindavan. The indoors are spacious with the ambiance, rustic and woody bamboo themed indoors oozing an earthy, homely appeal. The food is moderately prized so it won't burn a big hole in your pocket. 

From the menu of Ammaji Restaurant Vrindavan
Ammaji Restaurant -Mojito, Vrindavan
From Ammaji's Menu (Pictures from their FB page)


Address: Parikrama Marg, Shree Bindu Sewa Sansthan, Sant Binduji Marg, Ram Nagar, Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh 281121.

Phone: 099977 10000.

4. BRIJWASI RESTAURANT, VRINDAVAN.

If you are looking for another hygienic option, then this Vrindavan restaurant is something you can try. Similar to the food chain of Bikanervala or the other popular eating chains all across UP, Brijwasi serves everything you will get on the streets in the confines of the four walls in a cosy and comfortable air-conditioned room. We didn't try this joint this time but it certainly sounds like good value for money and well worth a try if you are in the city.

Address: Bhaktivedanta Swami Marg, Bankebihari Colony, Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh 281121
Phone: 0565 244 3363

5. STREET FOOD VRINDAVAN:
PURI, MAVA, LASSI, KACHORI, ALOO TIKKIS, PANI PURI AND MORE!

This is where the real fun begins – the constricted lanes, the cramped gullies and the narrow streets! You will find everything here – puri, kachori, mava, pani puris, pattice, lassi.


A chaat shop in Vrindavan offering Kachopis and samosas
A Mithaiwala in Vrindavan waits for his morning customers.
A chaat shop in Vrindavan with pani puri and tikiyas on sale
A thelawala or pushcart in Vrindavan lures with his lip smacking eatables on display
A Lassi (curd based coolant) shop in Vrindavan
The sweet curd based coolant - Vrindavan Lassi - served in earthen pots.

... name it and you will have it! The only thing that one needs to be careful of is hygiene and cleanliness, rest is... ah, paradise!

Address: They come with no fixed addresses; you will find them as you move around in the area, you can only trust your nose to guide you in the right direction!


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Vrindavan Food: Street Food and Best Restaurants in Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh
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Have you been to Vrindavan?
Which according to you are the best places to eat in Vrindavan?
Add to the list in the comments section!



Thursday, March 15, 2018

5 Jyotirlingas In Maharashtra

In a family of people who celebrate spirituality and religion, I grew up to be an active devotee of Lord Shiva who would pray to him everyday unfailingly, and always be at the forefront during Mahashivratri celebrations. However, I experienced the true joy of being a shiva-bhakt during my expedition of the 5 Jyotirlinga in Maharashtra, along with my parents and younger brother. It was my first trip to the much revered Jyotirlingas in India, which are considered to be the holiest shrines of Shiva throughout the country, hence, I was naturally very excited ever since we landed in Nashik. From there we took a cab to our hotel and refreshed ourselves for the much awaited tour.

1. TRIMBAKESHWAR JYOTIRLNGA, NASHIK.

Jyotirlings of India  - Trimbakeshwar Temple - Side View

The first temple on our checklist was the majestic Trimbakeshwar JyotirlingaThe temple was a beauty carved in black stone near the Brahmagiri mountain alongside river Gautami, around 30 kms. from the temple city of Nashik. We entered the temple along with flocks of devotees pouring in from all over India, with the cries of ‘Har Har Mahadev’ and the smiles of serenity. The temple priest told us that Lord Shiva resides here along with goddesses Parvati, Lakshmi and Saraswati.


2. BHIMASHANKAR JYOTIRLINGA, PUNE.

Jyotirlings of India  - Bhimashankar Temple - Top View

The next stop in our trip was the Bhimshankar Jyotirlinga on the banks of river Bhima in Pune, the road to which was through the mountain range of Sahyadri. Engulfed in natural beauty, the temple offered a treat to our senses, while a dip in the holy Bhima offered peace to our soul. Even the seemingly small task of purchasing the items required for making offerings to Shiva (in the form of ‘Ardhnareeshwara’) from the vendors perched outside the temple gave me unusual happiness.

3. GRISHNESHWAR JYOTIRLINGA, AURANGABAD

Jyotirlings of India - Grishneshwar Temple

After that we went on to visit the Grishneshwar Jyotirlinga on the banks of an ancient pond called ‘Shivalay’ located at a village called Verul, which lies 20 km from Daulatabad, near Aurangabad in Maharashtra. I had read somewhere previously that unlike the rest of the 11 Jyotirlingas, the Lingam of Grishneshwar Temple is designed such that  the water (after the Abhishekam) flows towards the east, and that day, witnessed it as well during the rituals of the temple.

4. AUNDHA NAGNATH JYOTIRLINGA, MAHARASHTRA.


Then came our turn to visit the oldest Jyotirlinga, the Aundha Nagnath Temple, located in the Hingoli district of Maharashtra. This jyotirlinga is amazingly popular among Shiva devotees because of the belief that worshiping the deity can safeguard one against all poisons. However, the most interesting thing about the temple was the fact that the Sanctum of the temple is in the basement and we had to climb down to worship Lord Nagnath.

5. PARLI VAIJNATH JYOTIRLINGA, MAHARASHTRA.

Jyotirlings of India  - Parli Vaijnath Temple - Long Shot

The last stop in our journey was the Parli Vaijnath Jyotirlinga, located in Beed district in Maharashtra, which draws its name from the fact that it is amid the bounty of medicinal plants. However, I felt as if the atmosphere healed my soul, which was weary from worldly worries, and also from the fact that I had to go back home after this breathtakingly beautiful trip during which I not only experienced the joys of travelling, but also the oneness with Shiva which I’d found nowhere else. I was surprised when I saw everyone touch the Lingam, because it is usually not allowed. But here, at Parli Vaijnath temple, where Lord Shiva is ‘Vaidyanath’, it is a belief that touching the Lingam helps in the process of healing.


Magnificient 5 Shiva Jyotirlinga Temples In Maharashtra

For the rest of my life, when I look back on these days, I’ll remember the wonderful memories that I made and the influx of positivity that I felt in the lap of nature, blanketed by sheer love for God which I will forever carry in my heart.

5 JYOTIRLINGA IN MAHARASHTRA MAP:


5 Jyotirlinga in Maharashtra - Route Map
Route Map of 5 Jyotirlinga pilgrimage tour in Maharashtra


LIST OF OTHER JYOTIRLINGAS IN INDIA:
  • Somnath Jyotirlinga, situated near Veraval in (Prabhas Kshetra) Kathiawad district.
  • Nageshwar Jyotirlinga also known as Nagnath Temple located on the route between Dwarka and the Bet Dwarka Island on the coast of Saurashtra in Gujarat.
  • Mallikarjuna Jyotirlinga, situated on the banks of the Krishna River, on the Shri Sailam Mountain in Andhra Pradesh.
  • Mahakaleshwar Temple, located on the banks of the Kshipra River, in the Mahakal forest in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh.
  • Omkareshwar Jyotirlinga, located on the Mandhata or the Shivapuri island in the Narmada River in Madhya Pradesh.
  • Vaidyanath Jyotirlinga, located at Deogarh in the Santal Parganas region of Jharkhand.
  • Rameshwaram Jyotirlinga, located on the island of Rameshwaram, in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.
  • Kedarnath Jyotirlinga located on the Rudra Himalayan Range at a staggering height of 12000 feet on a mountain named Kedar.
  • Kashi Vishwanath located in one of the oldest cities of the world - Kashi or Banaras or Varanasi.
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Disclosure: This post contains a sponsored link, and I may earn a small commission if you click and purchase the service (at no extra cost to you!)

About the Author: This article is written by Sasidhar Darla, the Founder at Myoksha Travels. He is very passionate about temples and traveled to almost all the major temples in India. He returned from US to develop spiritual tourism in India and make it easy for travelers to experience pilgrimage tours.


Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Bound In Love: Notes From Shirdi Sai Baba Temple.

The marble statue Sai Baba can be seen from a distance... clad in a colorful robe adorned with a lavish garland, he sits royally on the gold studded throne, a gift from the devouts. The edifice around in the center is stunning as well: glittering in gold. Amid all the affluence, the glitter and the gold rests the Samadhi, the place where Baba still resides, alive and breathing, covered in a colorful chadar (bedcover) and a garland matching the color on the statue. The hall is immensely crowded and though the pace of the queue moves briskly, one can feel the eagerness among the devouts who come from far and wide to reach the altar to feel his presence... to bow their heads, to catch one glimpse of their beloved Baba...  such is the legacy of the great saint that as a popular belief goes - anyone who surrendered to Baba never left from here with an empty heart...

but what exactly does surrendering to Baba mean? 
what attracts lakhs of pilgrims of all faiths
to this little town in Maharashtra's heartland?
what makes the Baba so popular?

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I have gone to Shirdi Sai Baba Samadhi temple several times, the last being sometime in 2015. One reason for it being its proximity to Mumbai making it a relatively easier getaway on the weekends. The roads on the Mumbai-Nashik stretch are good too, it takes hardly around 3 hours to reach Shirdi from Mumbai. The drive passes through the towering Sahyadri mountains along the Western Ghats, the rolling hills and the open vistas, the manicured fields and the sights of the countryside that I often miss in my urban existence.

Flowers being sold at Sai Baba Samadhi Temple, Shirdi
Somewhere along the way, on the Mumbai - Nashik highway - Windmills!

Last year Diwali, we planned a yatra to Shirdi and for the first time ever, we chucked the traditional darshan queues and instead opted to book tickets for the online darshan, a facility provided by Shirdi Sai Baba Sansthan for the convenience of the bhaktas. We reached the main gate at 6.30 AM as against the prescribed time of 6.45 PM with the printouts of the ticket and found ourselves in the inner hall of the Samadhi Mandir (temple) after barely 20 minutes or so. Never before, had the access to Sai Baba been so easy!

The temple entrance at Sai Baba Samadhi Temple, Shirdi, Maharashtra
Since we had booked tickets via the online darshan,
It didn't take us more than around 30 minutes to reach the inner sanctum.


On my way, I saw pilgrims...


both - young, with a spring in their steps, and old, with a stick in their hands - men, women and children, some barefeet, while some others with shoes and slippers on, but everyone walking in silent anticipation to meet their beloved Sai...


A cauldron of faith at Sai Baba Samadhi Temple, Shirdi
Ya Sai,
amchi nond ghya

A lot keeps changing in the temple town of Shirdi, from a town with barely any good hotels of note to a town where hotels are jostling for space, the town has come a long way. It's today a modern pilgrim town offering every possible amenity for every type of traveler ensuring his comfortable stay. We stayed in MTDC's hotel Pilgrim's Inn located just a stone's throw away from the temple and an excellent option for devotees looking for accommodation at reasonable prices. There is an abundance of flower, prasad shops along the way to the temple. I paused for a while to savour the beauty of the roses peeping out tenderly, from a bunch of greens. Some pilgrims took these to offer on Sai's Samadhi (tomb) as their humble gift. The flowers came in various colors, red, yellow and white tied in a single thread as a garland or a mala.


Flowers being sold at Sai Baba Samadhi Temple, Shirdi


Monitors are placed inside the rooms through which the queue passes to play the live sai darshan for the people waiting for their turn in the queue. The main hall of the Samadhi Mandir remains as crowded as ever, no matter what time of the day, what day of the year, escalating on festivals and Thursdays when a palanquin procession is carried out in honor of the saint who was also a teacher. There is now a fencing built around the Samadhi of Sai Baba making it difficult for the devotees to reach out to it. I gazed at his ornate life-like statue ever since it became visible to me, from a distance and once near, I pressed my head on the marble platform housing the samadhi... the platform felt cold but my heart felt warm.


... Sabka Malik Ek ...


Sai Baba Samadhi Temple, Shirdi
Shraddha and Saburi: Patience and Faith
this was Sai Baba's mantra to all!

Sai Baba was a man of utmost simplicity and sincerity and his teachings were as simple to grasp and apply in life. He had a kafni to cover himself, a loincloth, a small stick, a cloth to cover his head and a pot in his hand. Through the day, he would roam in the village and beg for meals and at the end of the day, he would share it with everyone alike - humans, animals, birds - no distinctions made. He never beat his own trumpet by calling himself an expert, a teacher or a know-it-all, rather he lived his life in an exemplary way emphasizing on experiencing the Truth which he believed was the meeting point of all faiths, religions, castes and creeds into the One Master. He lived in an old masjid (mosque) called dwarkamaayi and encouraged everyone to follow their faith and read their own scriptures.


Who was he?
Where did he come from?
What were his origins? 

No one really knows but his words, his message - that of oneness, of equality in the eyes of the Supreme, of unity in diversity and harmony in differences, the universal pillars of brotherhood connected one and all in a single thread of humanity. He may have long given up on his body but his tomb, the Samadhi, continues to converse with the faith of his devotees and to all those who worship in the goodness of faith and sincerity, he gives them hope in their sufferings and graces them with peace.

Sacred threads threaded in beads as malas,
were being sold as as lucky amulets or keepsakes.

Markets at Sai Baba Samadhi Temple, Shirdi
From the markets of Shirdi.

I saw Sangeeta Jadhav sitting quietly, on a parapet selling chikkis (a sweet made of peanuts coated in jaggery), 2 packets for 20. She has been doing it since as long as she can remember. She has seen the town change, she has seen the crowds swell, she has seen her high days and low, and through it all... she has felt the benign presence of Baba in her everyday life.

'Babachi Krupa Aahe',
she says when I try quizzing about her life,
with one of the most peaceful smiles I have seen.

Sunita Jhadav selling chikkis at Sai Baba Samadhi Temple complex, Shirdi
Sangeeta tai radiating a positive aura with her peaceful smile!

Even in the broad daylight, ornamental lights twinkled on and off, lending the town a delightful character as I ambled around lazily around it after the Samadhi darshan. It was the festival day of Diwali after all, the festival of lights. The town, lanes and alleys were festooned and all lit up in bright lamps and from where I stood, they all seemed to twinkle in a symphonic rhythm as if celebrating the divine message of love and light that Sai Baba had left behind for all of us.

 A woman devout was assembling a row of diyas neatly under a banyan tree, close to the temple. She lighted a diya and from there, one by one, she started lighting all the diyas with that single spark of light.

As I snapped this picture and made my way towards my budget hotel room in Shirdi,
I wondered of the sight when all the diyas would be bound in a single spark of light...

How magical would it look!

Diwali celebrations at Sai Baba Samadhi Temple, Shirdi, Maharashtra


... just like the flowers that were bound together, in devotion,
just like the pilgrims that walked together, in faith,
just like the beaded malas that were threaded together, in prayer...

... and, just like all of us,
you, me and Sangeeta tai,
are bound together...
in love .

Sabka Malik Ek!

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Information, Sai Baba temple hours and darshan timings, aarti timings, etc.

-- The temple opens at 4:00 AM and closes at 11.30 PM

Bhupali - 4:15 AM
Kakad  Aarti (morning) - 4:30 AM
Bhajan in Saibaba Mandir - 5.00 AM
Holy Bath of Shri Sai Baba (Mangal Snaan) in Samadhi Mandir - 5:05 AM
Aarti "Shirdi Majhe Pandharpur" - 5:35 AM

Darshan begins in Samadhi Mandir - 5:40 AM

Abhishek Pooja - 9:00 AM
Satyanarayana Pooja - 8:00 AM,10:30 AM
Dhuni Pooja with rice and ghee in Dwarkamai - 11:30 AM
Mid day Aarti - 12:00 PM
Pothi (Devotional reading/Study) in Samadhi Mandir -  4:00 PM
At Sunset - Dhoop  Aarti

Devotional Songs in Samadhi Mandir and other Cultural Programmes (if any) - 8:30 PM - 10:00 PM
Chavadi and Gurusthan is closed - 9:00 PM
Dwarkamai, water is given to Baba, a mosquito net is covered and a lamp is lit - 9:30 PM
Dwarkamai (the upper part) closes - 9:45 PM

Shej (night) Aarti, following which, a shawl is wrapped around Sai Baba in the Samadhi Mandir, a Rudraksha mala is put around his neck, and a glass of water kept by his side for the night - 10:30 PM

Samadhi Mandir closes after night Aarti - 11:15  PM

Abhishek Pooja timings:

 1st Batch: 7.00 AM to 8.00 AM
 2nd Batch: 9.00 AM to 10.00 AM
 3rd Batch: 12.30 PM to 1.30 PM

-- To book Shirdi Sai Baba Darshan online, you can refer to my step by step online sai darshan booking guide here.

-- Many important traditions are observed in the temple like "Daily offerings by Abdul Baba and Boraoke families", "Palki procession every Thursday", "Jholi parampara in mahasamadhi", "Ramanavami" and "Rrs tradition". Thursday is considered to be most important day for worship of Saibaba and hence one can expect a good amount of crowd. For a unique experience, try attending the Kakad Arti on a thursday followed by joining the palki procession.


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Shiva, The Protector: Nageshwar Jyotirlinga, Bet Dwarka

85 feet tall, 45 feet wide Shiva deity at Nageshwar Jyotirling Shiva Temple, Bet Dwarka

He is sitting on a huge pedestal under the canopy of the clear blue sky, his eyes open, his expression stern but benevolent. Inching a foot nearer, I glare at his eyes again – not closed, no, but aware and awake, staring into the distant skyline. The statue in itself is very impressive recording a massive 85 feet of height and 40 feet in width: serpents drape His ascetic body while a dumru and a trident adorn His upper hands, one on each side. In the left hand, below the dumru, he is clutching a rudraksh mala resting neatly on his thigh. As I keep inching closer and closer, the gigantic statue in stone and faith keeps towering higher and higher. The sun shining through the clear blue skies illuminates the massive figure, casting a soft veil of aura to it. Touched by the sun, the larger than life body of Shiva glows in light…

Across the statue, stands the main Nageshwar temple housing the revered Dwadash Jyotirlingam or one among the 12 Jyotirlingams in India, Lord Shiva as a formless pillar of light and love. Located on the route between Dwarka and Bet Dwarka Island on the coast of Saurashtra in Gujarat, this  significant Shiva temple looks pretty modern in built compared to the legacy of the lingam itself. 

Entrance to Nageshwar Jyotirling Shiva Temple, Bet Dwarka
Nageshwar Jyotirlinga at Bet Dwarka: Main Entrance.
Temple spire at Nageshwar Jyotirling Shiva Temple, Bet Dwarka
Front part of the temple building.
Temple spire at Nageshwar Jyotirling Shiva Temple, Bet Dwarka
Nageshwar Jyotirling, Spire of the temple.
Incidentally, there also exists some confusion around the temple on whether it is actually the original Nageshwar temple which finds a mention in the sacred Hindu text Shiv Purana. Contesting its authenticity and recognition are two different temples that exist by the same name – one as Aundha Nagnath in Maharashtra and the other being Jageshwar temple in Almora, Uttarakhand – all the three temples have together claimed to be the Nageshwar Jyotirlingam that finds a mention in the sacred puranic texts. The confusion arises from the name of the place Darukavana (forest of Deodhar trees) where Shiva had self-manifested himself to bless His devotees but since not much has been verified, each one is left to his own opinions and interpretations. I, for my part, let it just be and instead decided to turn my attention to the legends to see how Dwarka gets its fair share of the fame…

People crowding near Lord Shiva statue at  Nageshwar Jyotirling Shiva Temple, Bet Dwarka
Nageshwar Temple: Just as one enters the temple compound.
According to Shiv Purana, there once lived a demonic couple Daruka and Daruki after whom were named the forest of Daruka Van. Although Daruki was an ardent devotee of Parvati, she, along with her husband Daruka, troubled innocent people and created havoc in their lives. Once they attacked a Shiva devotee named Supriya, and captured him along with many other hermits. Now Daruki had a blessing from Goddess Parvati that she could move the forest anywhere along with her, on her free will. Fearing wrath of the Gods for their misdeeds, she took advantage of this blessing, and moved Darukavan under the sea. Supriya invoked Lord Shiva and encouraged other captives to do the same, following which Lord Shiva appeared in the form of a Divine Light, a Jyothirlinga. He could not kill Daruki since she was blessed by his own wife, Parvati, but he assured Supriya that he would protect him in the form of a lingam. The lingam thus came to be revered in Dwarka (Daruka later came to be known as Dwarka, hence the confusion) as Nageshwar Jyotirlingam.

Nothing much of that forest remains today except a large banyan tree, a small pond surrounded by some shrubs and bushes.

A pond at the backside of the Nageshwar Jyotirling Shiva Temple, Bet Dwarka
A small pond at the back of the Nageshwar Jyotirling.
Banyan tree in Nageshwar Jyotirling Shiva Temple, Bet Dwarka
Women praying to the banyan tree in the Nageshwar Temple complex.
Way to Gomukh Ganga at Nageshwar Jyotirling Shiva Temple, Bet Dwarka
Gomukh Ganga in the premises of the Nageshwar temple.
And of course... Shiva, in the sanctum sanctorum as a pillar of light and right across the entrance gate, meditating – unmoved and unaffected by the chatter all around, a true yogi, calm and unattached in the face of chaos, with His fourth hand raised in a blessing.

The magnificient statue of Lord Shiva at  Nageshwar Jyotirling Shiva Temple, Bet Dwarka
Can you feel the enormity?
Beneath the magnificent statue of Lord Shiva at  Nageshwar Jyotirling Shiva Temple.
Standing beneath, as I gaze up at him, my head feels hollow and my heart, light, His compassionate eyes carrying an assurance of security and protection. Feeling tiny, I kneel down to pray just like some of the other devotees around. There is a constant hum of pandemonium all around - people, his devotees and followers are rushing in and around him. Some are clicking selfies while standing near him, some are busy snapping His pictures while some others are mumbling their prayers. Pigeons flutter about around him. A cow comes in from somewhere and moo’es in between. I close my eyes, silence descends gradually, the noise ceases to a trickle… as if someone has halted the hands of time and all the sounds have dissolved into a formless pure light of illuminance.

A gigantic Shiva deity of Nageshwar Jyotirling Shiva Temple, Bet Dwarka

Aum Namah Shivaay, I let out a faint chant, the same words that are inscribed on the outstretched palm of His hand. The strains of the chant reverberate deeper, as I walk out of the temple, permeating my whole being in an assurance, his assurance... birthing within a renewed elixir of life. 


Everything You Need to Know to Plan the Best Summer Vacation Ever!

Winter holidays are over, and now it's time to plan the perfect summer getaway - to a place so perfect that you will spend these remainder long, cold nights dreaming about. A place that gives you a well-deserved break from your stressful and mundane city life.

Imagine walking in the fog with cool mountain breeze blowing past you, chilly mornings and starry nights. Imagine going to a place that is not affected by the constantly rising temperature in summer and free of the constraints of city life. All this could come true a few months from now - while everybody else is juggling with the scorching heat of the sun, you can be in Himachal Pradesh, the epitome of natural beauty.

If one of your New Year's resolutions is to stop missing out on great opportunities, then assure yourself of a great summer by booking yourself either a Shimla, Kufri, Chail or a Himachal tour package right now! This way, you will also get there in time to capture the beauty of stark white winter transitioning into a bright, colourful summer, when it surpasses all its limits of gorgeousness. Here's everything that you need to know to plan the best summer vacation ever:

1. Things you need to carry.

• Always have your detailed itinerary printed in hand, along with hotel booking confirmation
• Identity proofs (digital, printed copy as well as original) are usually asked at the time of check-in at the hotel
• It could get a light chilly so make sure you pack light woollens, or sweatshirts and full sleeve tees
• Personal medication like thermometer, band-aids, eno, aspirin, ORS, crocin as well as prescribed medication if any
• Moisturizing lotion, especially if your skin dries quickly
• Power banks and chargers
• If you plan to adventure out on your own, don't forget your travel map, torches, trekking boots(or good rubber-soled shoes) and a few energy bars. 
• Don't forget to arm your DSLR with ample memory cards and batteries!

2. Cuisine to try.

Another reason to fall in love with Himachal Pradesh (the first reason being its breathtaking beauty) is the tasteful blend of exquisite Pahari cuisine it has to offer, that has a unique flavour and aroma to it. These are some dishes you simply must sample:

• Dhaam-–It is a traditional festival which is celebrated in the state. Treat your taste buds with sweetened rice, curd, curry, rice, green lentils and red kidney beans, which are served on leaves.
• River Trout - a local favourite served with rice
• TudkiyaBhath - A type of pulao with mash daal
• Kadoo Ka Khatta - Pumpkin cooked in gravy and amchoor
• Babru - A type of stuffed kachori served with tamarind chutney

3. Things to do and places to see - Shimla

• The Shimla Ridge - Go here for stunning views of the city and mountain peaks, to eat at one of the many restaurants located nearby or to shop at local stores. There's also a Christ Church and Tudor Library nearby.
• Kalka-Shimla Railway - A UNESCO World Heritage site, it is a connection between Kalka and Shimla. A must do for a breathtaking journey through bridges and tunnels.
• Jakhoo Hill - This is Shimla's highest peak and offers aview of the Himalayan mountains. There's also a Jakhoo Temple with a huge Hanuman statue. 
• Kufri-–It is a perfect place to indulge in adventure sports or to just enjoy scenic views from a 2510 metre altitude.

4. Things to do and places to see - Manali.

• Salong Valley or 'Snow Point' - This is a great place for adventure sports lovers and trekkers. It offers magnificent views of glaciers and snow-capped peaks.
• Rohtang Pass - It has various hidden waterfalls and a great many picturesque sites that you can discover on a jeep safari ride.
• Hadimba Devi Temple - Dedicated to Gahatotkacha, this 15th-century temple is perfect for the religious tourist.
• Great Himalayan National Park - Enjoy scenic views of mountain passes and valleys or admire the many endangered fauna and flora found here. It is also a great place for trekking. 

True, Himachal Pradesh is beautiful all year around, but there is just something exceptionally magical about it during summer. To experience the many magical vistas of nature here, be sure to book customized tour packages as early as possible so you can guarantee yourself a memorable summer. Don't forget to pack your camera to capture all your new favourite memories!

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About the Author:

Meera Dewaan is an aspiring writer, literature geek and author. She has several journals, articles and papers to her name. Writing is her passion. She writes about mostly all genres.