5 day trip

Tamil Nadu: Of a kingly love for books and a whale washed ashore

The Thanjavur palace complex was our next stop not very far from the Brihadeeshwara temple itself. Do note that it too closes from 1pm – 2pm for lunch, so do plan your trip accordingly.

Saraswati Mahal Library : This is definitely a unique legacy of the truly interesting character the King Serfoji II seems to be. A collection of books, manuscripts, palm leaves of everything from the epics to botany books of the time, Chinese torture methods, physiology. Apparently when the English were taking valuables away from the palace, the King’s only request was to leave his collection of books right there in Tanjore for the future generations to read.It’s quite a fascinating. Colorfully decorated exterior make it an attractive pit stop even for the not-so-avid reader.

Saraswati Mahal Library

Just beside it is a small theater where the history of the monuments in Tanjore is shown every hour which is worth a watch for a short introduction to its grandeur of the architecture and legacy.

Art Gallery : A statue of the King Serfoji  welcomes visitors at the entrance to this gallery of  bronze and stone carvings from the Chola , Nayak and Maratha dynasties that ruled Tanjavur at various times.

Art Gallery

Multiple areas in this palace complex are earmarked as museums/galleries and they are worth exploring and wondering about the lives and times of the past. The Nayaks Durbar hall now houses bronze images, a hall just for Nataraja depictions in bronze, and the Sefoji Museum  found with some effort was one with the attire and weaponry of the Maratha royalty.

Nayak’s Durbar hall

Despite all of these varied displays, perhaps the the most unexpected one was on the upper floor of one of the courtyards of the Arsenal Tower – a skeleton of a 32 ft long whale found washed ashore Tranquebar. IMG_0823.jpg It is seemingly both off place and apt at the same time.

Arsenal Tower

The Tanjore Maratha palace  was my favorite of the structures in this complex. It was a bigger explosion of hues though reminiscent of the Rangeen mahal in Bidar with exquisite colors , that could cheer up the most dreary day.

Tanjore Maratha palace

We made our way out and there was still daylight, so like we hadn’t seen enough museums we decided to stop at the Collectorate museum on our way back that we just happened to notice.

Collectorate museum

Something one can’t miss as soon as one enters is a spiral stairwell constructed more than a 100 years ago, which a handrail only on one side and a pole on the other- making it interesting and confusing as one climbed up.

Atop the Collectorate museum

It was more a museum-in-the-making with some items up for display in different halls – information on rice cultivation, a collection of musical instruments and even more stone sculptures. However the most interesting part of the museum was from the terrace, a view of the 3 towers of the Brihadeeshwara temple with which we had started the morning, and what will always be the grandest display of all – a sunset amidst the gorgeous backdrop of the sky. IMG_4224Follow that up with getting Anand to finally try the famed drink Jigarthanda, and one couldn’t expect a better end to the day.


Up next : Tamil Nadu : Of abandoned seaside towns and gilded limbs of a God


Tamil Nadu : Of 16th century granaries and Marathas in Tanjavur

Ramaswamy temple : IMG_0487 The temple walls themselves have scenes from the epic Ramayana painted all over them from Rama’s birth till his coronation.

62 very large pillars right at the entrance that are a joy to behold(except for the ads)

The idols in this temple were found by the then King of Tanjore, Raghunayak  while digging the holy tank in Darasuram.IMG_4842

Sri Palaivana Nathar temple :  Interestingly we first headed here since the map showed an ASI recognised a 16th century granary which is now a protected monument. The temple itself is calm in the fading light of  the early evening and only had a few local women with their children visit it. The name of the town – Palathurai comes from the Palm tree which is the holy tree of this temple.

The 16th century granary is mostly ignored by the devotees

Legend : The taluk itself is called Papanasam since it is believed that Lord Rama came here to pray to Lord Shiva and wash away his sin of having killed Ravana. It is also believed this was the town where Lord Shiva killed the man-eater sent to attack and used its skin in what is now pretty much the only attire we see all images of Lord Shiva. There is another small shrine beside the main one and we walked around the place reveling in its silence and calm.

Sri Palaivana Nathar temple

After spending all day in the stories and structures of the past , a bit of rest later, we decided we had to also check out the Tanjore of today, and despite residing in an extremely busy area of the city, we decided to head out. We passed by the evening vegetable market  with fresh produce and even dropped by a mela where we enjoyed the sight of kids being thrilled on the amusement park rides and icecream! So well, that wasn’t too bad a note to end a day on.

Day 3 :

The next morning we were to visit the place that was probably the piece de resistance of the whole trip – the Tanjavur Brihadeeshwara temple. It’s quite a hard to digest the contrast of the first view one has of it- from across a road with very heavy traffic. Once you enter the place is when you realise that it’s massive- all that we thought our recent blockbuster movie – Bahubali, exaggerated in terms of architecture, is pretty much realistic once you get here. IMG_0535.jpgAs much as a good job Anand has done with the pictures, no picture can really capture the magnificence of seeing the place in person. One cannot help but gape in wonder at its colossal stature and see how well deserved its addition into the UNESCO world heritage site list is. Also the name that simply translates to the “Big Shiva temple” which seems apt once you see it.

It was embarrassing for us that despite having studied history in early schooling we didn’t realise that the Marathas ever ruled this part of India. Thanjavur itself was ruled by the Cholas, Pandyas, the Vijayanagara rulers, the Nayaks and then the Maratha kingdoms – many of who contributed to the Tanjavur temple.

Maratha Entrance

The entrance to the temple is via 3 arches with ornate gopuras, the outermost one is the Maratha entrance, a relatively recent and simpler addition by the Marathas going all around the temple. The next one to commemorate the king’s victory over the Cheras of Kerala- therefore called the Keralantankan Thiruvasal. The innermost gate Rajarajan Thiruvasal had 2 huge dwarapalakas (gate keepers) depicted on either side.

No picture does justice to it’s massive size

The whole city of Tanjavur was designed with this temple as the ceremonial and sacred center.The inscriptions all around the temples on pillars and walls are the equivalent of account books that listed all donations and financial dealings related to the temple. The Dvarapalakas (guardians of the gate), some of which were upto 18 ft tall were my personal favorite to admire. It is one of the rare temples of the time that had depictions and motifs of Shaivite, Vaishnava and Buddhist legends making it a secular space at the time despite the main temple being dedicated to the Lord Shiva.IMG_0577.jpg

Nandi Mantapam : The 25 tonne Nandi is housed in an exceptionally beautiful platform with patters on the ceiling in the most brilliant shades of blue,yellow, green and white – one can’t help but stop and stare. It is said that this Nandi also grows in size with time similar to the Nandi in the temple at Yaganti and that a nail was driven into it so that it doesn’t get too big for the platform that houses it.

That ceiling

The main temple is of Shiva housing a 3.7 mt tall Shiva linga. The temple itself is built out of granite. Even in the 11th century its amazing how the Chola architects managed to build the 63.4 meter high vimana (tower)  and managed to hoist the crowning shikara made of 8 pieces together weighing 81 tonnes atop the structure making it the world’s tallest. IMG_0638.jpgAs massive as it is , it is said the structure itself is built with no binding material but only with the means of interlocking stones. It is believed that the 2 Nandis atop the srtucture were put up there by means of an inclined plans upto 4 miles away

There are numerous shrines in the complex dedicated to Varahi, Kuruvar Devar (the saint who helped the king in the installation of the Shiva linga in the main temple), Subrahmanya,Chandikeshvara and an Amman shrine. The Amman shrine had interesting sculptures in a style that was not typical to what we had seen in other temples in Tamil nadu.

Zoom into the patches on the ceiling and you’ll realise they’re frescoes depicting stories

They were also colored with paints made with natural ingredients all over the ceilings. The corridors around the temple area are covered in frescoes painted in the Chola and the Nayaka eras.

The Maratha King Seforji installed 108 lingas as part of his contributions to the temple. There are paintings all over the walls beside them depicting the 64 sacred sports of Shiva.  He executed elaborate repairs and reconstructions of this temple too and built the Nataraja Mantapam which has depictions of the 108 poses in Bharatnatayam carved here. The shrines of Ganesha and Nataraja (the form of Shiva in his celestial dance) are also additions from the time of the King Serforji.IMG_0568.jpg

Up next : Tamil Nadu: Of a kingly love for books and a whale washed ashore

5 day trip

Tamil Nadu: Of cleansing holy dips and white elephants

We made our way to the Sri Kampahareshwar temple next. It is what we’d come to expect of temples in Tamil nadu post this trip. Endless pillars, huge colorful and intricately colored gopuras, well- decorated ceilings and smaller shrines around the main temple. And ofcourse it had to have an associated story too.

If God is in the details…then this is a temple for sure.

 Legend : A king accidentally killed a man while on his horse and couldn’t stop trembling with the guilt of murdering an innocent man. His trembling is said to have stopped by the grace of the Lord Shiva which leads us to the name meaning the one who relieved trembling. (kampa- trembling).

The streaming light on the intricate pillars

There is also a shrine here of a form of Shiva called Sarabeshwara – part man, eagle and lion, who is the mythical creature that calmed down Lord Vishnu in his Narasimha form after he had killed the demon Hiranyakashyap. Architecturally the tower over the sanctum being taller than the gateway tower is the distinct feature of this temple. We were just in time for the temple to close at 12:30pm and managed to get some time to walk around it.IMG_4140

We still tried our luck at the Arul Migu Sarangapani temple which was a Vishnu temple but its doors were closed for the morning.

Temples have a lunch break too, folks

The main shrine is supposed to have an interesting design of a chariot driven by horses and elephants landing on the earth to depict the story of Lord Vishnu visiting this place to marry his consort Lakshmi. So it may be worth a visit.

Note : Several temples in Tamil nadu function only during the morning and evening prayers and are closed for the rest of the time. It will do you well to check beforehand while you plan your itinerary. Also do note that internet connectivity was bad for a good part of our trip this time. We’d recommend you do your planning in advance.

With failing luck at the temples, we decided to head to the spot that showed up in most tourist recommendations of this place- the Mahamaham tank.

Legend: has this that in the end of the previous Hindu era (yuga) the Lord Brahma re-created the world and a divine pot was broken the nectar fallen into the Mahamaham tank and the Potramarai tank near the Sarangapani temple which we also had a peek at along the way. There are 21 spring wells inside the Mahamaham tank named after various deities and rivers. It is believed that on the festival once every 12 years, a dip in this tank equals the dip into all the holy rivers in India.

Visit for a quick sin-cleanse

However on our trip, thankfully there was no festival and we got to see it in it’s everyday simplicity. A bus load of female devotees drying their flaming red saris by holding it at either ends and waving it in the breeze, after a dip in the tank added a splash of color at one end of the tank. Local kids jumping into the water from various heights to beat the afternoon heat. A handful of other locals sitting around the tank which is probably their space to catch up on conversation. The kids were very friendly and curious, especially to Anand with his camera.

We headed to the  Airavateshwara temple in the town of Darasuram which is one of the Great Living Chola temples and deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Having been to a few temples in the past this was the first one to have small Nandi figures all over the wall around the temple.

Nandis all around

Another interesting detail we started noticing in the temples on this trip was that the Nandi statue always had its tongue out towards its nose! The pillars are extremely detailed and a joy to spend time admiring.IMG_0410.jpg  The main shrine incorporates a chariot structure with horses and elephants giving it a grand touch.IMG_0389.jpg It was an ideal monument for us- spacious, untouched by paint and modern trappings, not very crowded and so many intricate details at every turn.

The vast area and corridors around the temple

And how could I miss the legend associated with this temple.

Legend : it is believed that Airavat- Lord Indra’s white elephant took a dip in the temple tank here and was restored with clean white skin thus giving the temple it’s name. The tank itself has a channel connected to the river Cauvery.

Since we hadn’t taken a guide, we missed noticing something that sounds very interesting- the singing steps that produce a musical note when one walks on them. We did walk on it but maybe it needed a keener ear to hear!

Adi Kumbeshwar Temple – This is the temple that shares the root of the name with the town of Kumbakonam itself. The name Kumbakonam comes from the words Kumbha (pot) and konam(corner) due to the legend that the mythical pot that housed the seed of all living beings on earth came to rest here after being displaced.  The pieces of the pot are said to have fallen in various places in the surroundings that are now temples. One would be welcomed by the tallest of the 4 gateway towers which is at 11 stories with a plethora of divine beings on it in myriad colours.IMG_4156.jpg

This temple is also dedicated to the Lord Shiva and the conical linga representing him is made, interestingly, of sand. The 16 pillared hall having all 27 stars and 12 constellations carved on a single stone is easy to miss here with people resting there and a temple administrator’s desk right in front of it. This was the first temple in Tamil nadu that had something quite common to temples in Kerala- a live elephant.


For a fee you could get blessed by the elephant who was then in turn rewarded with puffed rice by his mahout. It’s interesting how we treat those whose blessings we want – keep them standing all day and chaining their feet.

This entire temple complex covers an area of 30,000 sq ft in concentric compounds that are choc-a-bloc with vibrant stalls selling everything under the sun.


Up next : Tamil Nadu : Of 16th century granaries and Marathas in Tanjavur


5 day trip

Tamil Nadu : Of still mangroves and the grandeur of the Cholas

Day 1)

On our drive to Tamil nadu, the route was by near the Eastern Ghats which meant that they had delayed rains in the monsoons Vs the rains in Bangalore meant that most waterbodies – ponds and lakes along the way were full of water and the greenery was at its most pleasing.

Monsoons in the Eastern Ghats

A 7.5 hour drive later our first stop was Pichavaram , the world’s second largest mangrove forest and is on the Killai backwater. We were accosted by a fisherman right as we were about to enter the area.

Wading towards our ride

He had an ID card of a traditional fisherman which I assume does not allow him to take tourists, nevertheless he managed to have us confused with insisting he spoke to us in terrible Hindi despite us informing him we understood Tamil. He struck a deal for Rs.1500 to take us around the mangroves in his motor boat for 6km which he completed in less than an hour. The Govt boats cover the 6km in 3 hours and charge Rs.1100 as we later looked up.

The water depth is just of a few feet so you can see fishermen standing casually in the water at various spots and finding their catch for the day. It never gets boring to watch the roots of trees in a mangrove extend their arms longingly towards the water.

More green at every turn

The water cover itself was calm, serene and quiet. Now if only our boatman was too. But well. The highlight of this boat ride for me was seeing numerous flying fish popping out of the clear water unexpectedly and taking us by surprise ever so often.

A few of the mangrove islands also had plenty of egrets perched on the unapologetically green cover.

A 1/2 hr drive from here and one would reach the temple town of Chidambaram. A stark contrast from the pleasant lack of people in Pichavaram. A huge inflow of devotees there was due to the next day being Ekadasi which we didn’t realise when we decided to make our visit.

The Chidambaram temple

The unique aspect of this temple is that there is a worship of the Akasa Lingam, which is the worship of Shiva as formless space so the space with the main deity is just an empty space at the center of the temple.

Deities with more than just one helping hand

There is a curtain covering it though and it is lifted up during the times of worship. The other areas of the temple are associated with Nataraja , or Shiva in his Ananda Tandava pose (the cosmic dance of bliss).  The 4 gopuras on each of the 4 cardinal directions are about 250 ft and the towers in front of them have the 108 poses of the dance form, bharatanatyam.IMG_0156.jpg The temple tank is called the Shivaganga tank and the Nritta Sabha is a hall in the temple with 50 pillars where legend has it that the God Shiva and the Goddess Kali entered into a dance competition.

Shivaganga tank, Chidambaram

While I’m not a fan of carbonated drinks, I make a happy exception to something I’ve only seen in Tamil nadu called Panneer soda which is a soda that is rose water flavored. Do try it when there, especially in the  humidity of the place. There was a dearth of available rooms due to the inflow of devotees meant that we got one that was quite sad 😐 thankfully we had carried an extra blanket that was some comfort.

Day 2

The next morning we were glad to be rid of the hotel and made our way to Gangaikondacholapuram. This is probably the only capital city I remember from my school history text books since it was easy to remember- capital of the Cholas- Gangaikondacholapuram- what else could it possibly be called.

The impressive first view of the Gangaikondacholapuram temple

For those who are unaware, the Cholas were a great empire that had conquered most of south India, Srilanka, Malaysia, Cambodia, Indonesia and Bangladesh in the 11th century, so much so that the Bay of Bengal was referred to as the Chola lake! While the Chola kingdom’s lifeline was the Cauvery river, the young Chola king Rajendra Chola defeated the Kalinga, Odda, Vengi and Pala kingdoms in bloody battles to finally get the water of the Ganges back home to set up the capital, Gangaikondacholapuram.

The Dwarapalakas

The name of this town came from the king’s title which meant the one who had conquered the Ganges.IMG_4803.jpg

As it often does, online maps led us to a side entrance to the temple when there was a perfectly good entrance at the front. However it was an impressive structure to behold- small shrines in caves, huge dwarapalakas (my favorite part) at the entrance of every door, an enormous nandi at the front of the temple and something new to admire at every turn.IMG_0229

Whether it is the divine couple Shiva parvati shown crowning the king, or the ardhanareshwar (half male-half female) form of Shiva or Shiva inside a linga. The main diety is Shiva represented by a 4m tall linga in the sanctum of the temple.

Smaller shrines and a lion well are recent additions in the 19th century.

One could truly spend all day just watching the beauty of the structure and wonder at the effort and skill that had gone into its creation in an era so long in the past.

Up next : Tamil Nadu: Of cleansing holy dips and white elephants

2 day trip

Buffalo races and picturesque places : All in the Tulu land

A topic of recent controversy has been the event of Jallikattu in Tamil nadu with arguments over whether it was a culturally relevant way to practice bull taming, while others insisting it was inherently cruel- or just maybe a bit of both. On the other side of the south of India is the event Kambala- which is a annual race of buffaloes held in the coastal areas of Karnataka.

An overnight bus from Bangalore will take you to Mangalore. After freshening up and a bit of rest a hired bike to cross 65km and you’d arrive at the event location, Venoor. The entry is free and you’d do well to not expect seating. Mangalore and the coastal areas are warm to say the least, even in winter. Tracks are ploughed into a muddy paddy field that is made slushy with water.IMG_2421.jpgThe event itself runs for 24-36 hours continually with this location having 4 racing formats. However the one we saw was that of a single pair of buffaloes driven by their owner and timing is compared later to see the fastest of the lot.IMG_2427

Note : It may be better to visit in the early evening since this one type went on for a whole 3 hours we were there so there wasn’t much variety in the experience.

The buffaloes were given a bath before and after the race in a nearby stream. Each group seemed to have their own cheering squad too- with an assortment of instruments in tow.IMG_2503

Other than Kambala itself, the town of Venoor by the Phalguni river  was once the seat of Jainism and has several Jain temples sprinkled around to prove it.

Kallu Basadi was the first visited since it was made of rock cut stones. The presence of a large courtyard caused it to be called Dodda Basadi.IMG_2603

Note : Most of the temples visited had their inner sanctuaries closed. It’s possible they are only open in the early mornings for prayers since they are not major tourist destinations. Here we only covered a bunch of places since we didn’t aim to cover them all but there are more Basadis that may be interesting to explore.IMG_2634

Gomateshwara statue : This was built  by Thimmanna Ajila, the direct descendant of Chamundaraya, who build the Gomateshwara statue at Shravanabelagola. It is 38 ft in height and on the banks of the Phalguni river.IMG_2666.jpg


Chowta palace/aramane : This was something that’s easy to miss, and we did miss it, since you see 2 cars at the entrance and get confused. Apparently it is still occupied by the descendants of the Chowta Jain dynasty.

This was the actual entrance to the palace.. but is now just a ruin

The Chowta queen is sometimes recognised as the first woman freedom fighter of India having fought the Portuguese army during 1530-99 and earned the title Abhaya Rani.IMG_2685


Savira Kambada Basadi (1000 pillar temple) in Moodbidri : is, as its name suggests, a temple with 1000 pillars that honors the thirthankara Chandraprabha. IMG_2708It has a 60 ft tall monolith pillar in the courtyard of the temple.IMG_2713

The monolith pillar in front of the temple
The presiding deity

Day 2 of the trip took us to a few more spots of interest in Karkala which too was 60 km away from Mangalore.

Note : One could choose to stay in Moodbidri which is the point of deviation from Mangalore to both Karkala and Venoor. However we chose to return to Mangalore since it was only 60km away.

Chaturmukha Basadi : so called because it has 4 symmetrical faces, that are like 4 independent temples just fitted together like pieces of a puzzle.IMG_2774 It has a picturesque location atop a small hill surrounded by dense coconut palms on all sides. From here one can see the Gomateshwara in the Karkala basadi which was the next stop.IMG_2742

Gomateshwara, Karkala basadi : The statue of Gomateshwara is 41.5 ft tall built on a platform atop a rocky hill, itself called the Gommata Betta. IMG_2825It’s the second largest in Karnataka. IMG_2806Conversely one can see the Chaturmukha Basadi nestled amidst the coconut palms from the temple that houses the Gomateshwara.IMG_2783IMG_2797

Kere Basadi – The Anekere pond in Karkala was once constructed to provide water for irrigation to the township. And was the place for the king’s elephants to bathe. IMG_2901Until recently, the basadi was only be accessible via a wooden boat where the temple priest doubled up as the boatman. Today however there is a small road that leads directly to it. IMG_2895The pond is a idyllic spot with waterlilies, ducks and reflections of the surrounding coconut palms in the still water. Note: the inner sanctuary is only open for 2 hours a day from 8-9 am and 6:30-7:30 pm.IMG_2865

Koti Chennaya theme park :Koti and Chennaya were legendary twin brothers who fought against oppression by wealthy landlords and are today elevated to the level of divine entities to the extent that this park is primarily to describe their weapons and their stories. IMG_2950It also has utensils, idols,murals and oil paintings describing the life and times of the Tulu people from an older era.IMG_2927IMG_2933IMG_2934

A quick stop on the Pavanje bridge over the Nandini river gives you a beautiful view of the mangroves in all their lush finery were a fitting end to what was a trip that provided a glimpse into the culture and history of the Tulu people.IMG_2969





>10 day trip · 4 day trip

Ladakh : Of peaceful stupas and tense celebrations

The next morning we made our way back to our home for the vacation, Leh, however not before passing by even more charming scenes of the Shyok river along the way.IMG_3623.jpg

We had a slow day and then headed off to Leh to explore the town a bit more. We headed to the bazaar that housed Jokhang, a small Gonpa that is quite literally the spiritual heart of Leh with the lanes heading outward from it into the Leh town. It was probably the one place that had a lot of devotees of all ages on the steps outside chanting to themselves while counting prayer beads. We first hesitantly stepped in as the monks were in prayer, but soon an older monk nudged us to spend more time inside and really see the idols in all their beauty. IMG_2175.jpgOnce outside we walked around the place, rotated the prayer wheels, sat for a bit thinking of the last days of the trip and then headed back into the hustle of the market.IMG_2210.jpg

Another spot on our itinerary was the Leh Mosque, also very well within the market itself. It was undergoing renovation and we were only finally able to find it when a storekeeper took us all the way up the under-construction stairs to the prayer room there. On seeing us being unsure of the etiquette to follow, he kindly urged us that we wouldn’t offend anyone and could make a visit. It was a beautifully carpeted room that was otherwise simple. What caught our attention were copies of the Quran decorated in an intricate script. We sat there a while in the calm spot amidst the market noises and then made our way back. Outside it’s completely cement covered and with scaffolding at this point. I daresay it will be a different sight in a few months.IMG_2410.jpg

The bylanes of the Leh market are endlessly entertaining- we saw everything from freshly prepared yoghurt and butter, to clothes being dyed, to stores carrying souvenirs, silver jewellery and fabrics, to fresh peaches and radishes sold on the street.IMG_2407.jpg

The next day while 2 of our group headed back, the rest of us headed to the Leh Palace from the 17th century AD. At first glance, it’s both very simple having been constructed with stones, wood, mud and sand and majestic at the same time. IMG_2294.jpgIt has 9 storeys, each reached via narrow steps which the ASI has done a good job in using to showcase the history of the place with everything from ceremonial dresses, ornaments and the paintings made of crushed stones and gems.IMG_2249.jpg The upper floors were used by the royal family to live in and appropriately has balconies that provide a panoramic view of Leh, the Ladakh mountain range and the Zanskar mountain ranges. They even have a video showing the history of the place, it’s stories and its reconstruction that’s worth a watch.IMG_3646.jpg

Our next stop was the Sankar Gompa. The door to the inner sanctuary was closed, do note that it opens up only early in the morning or evening. IMG_2314.jpgWe, therefore, missed quite an impressive deity with 1000 hands holding various weapons and 1000 heads.IMG_2312.jpg

We rested a bit in the assembly hall just outside that was painted with detailed murals in vivid, rich colours. The well-loved garden lit up with the flowers in brilliant shades. IMG_2318.jpg

We then headed to the Shanti stupa, its location and brilliant white colour against the arid background makes it hard to miss even from afar. IMG_2354It has 2 levels each with stories painted on the walls. The first level has relatively simple art with 2 deer sitting on either side of the Ashoka chakra and Budhhas image atop it. IMG_2358The second level showcases the birth and life of Buddha until his death. IMG_2363It was constructed by the Buddhists with the help of the Ladakhis who volunteered labour thereby making it a true work of love.IMG_2360

We ended the day yet again amongst the people of Ladakh trying to absorb as much as we could in the sights, food and sounds of its market. It happened to be the day of Muharram and the area was filled with security personnel with weapons. Hence, coincidentally, starting and ending our trip with the army. One only hopes this little pocket of delicate life amongst the arid mountains that has both harsh weather and the kindest people continues to be a haven of peace for the times to come.IMG_3542.jpg


Ladakh: Of snow fights and sand dunes

Continued from here

The next morning we proceeded to Nubra valley via one of the world’s highest motorable road at 17,582 ft of elevation- the Khardungla Pass. It is used to carry supplies to the Siachen Glacier that is guarded by our armed forces.


The scene is quite breathtaking out here, and not just due to the lack of oxygen! The mountains still had significant snow cover in September much to the delight of the subset of the group for which it was their first experience of snow.IMG_1960

There is an absolute riot if prayer flags at this point perhaps in the hope that those prayers will protect the passers-by and those who stand guard. IMG_1971Further ahead and Skarma very kindly stopped to let us have a go at a snow fight. IMG_3536This was a terribly one-sided battle with all of us on one side with our snowballs getting powdered even before we threw them and him, the mountain dude on the other side aiming at us with lethal precision and robust snow missiles! With hands freezing and getting even more out of breath with laughter, we left the place swearing to get back at him on our way back.

A little ahead for all of us, we experienced our very first snow-fall- a trip with happy firsts makes it all seem worth it! We stopped for lunch at a place called New Punjab restaurant, and it was like many other places run by just a couple. However, they had something we hadn’t seen on any menu in Ladakh before – Chitranna (Lemon rice). IMG_3550Something that’s quintessentially Karnataka. Much amused we enquired with the owner and he said he had just learnt it online. We enjoyed all the other dishes too. When he came after we were done, he enquired about the dish and himself said that we may not have liked it because it missed one key ingredient- curry leaves. Finding yummy chitranna with peanuts when travelling the Himalayas was enough of a delicious miracle for us, expecting curry leaves was too much even for his level of dedication to try to cook it for us! Adding to the ambience was their cute daughter who spent the time playing peekaboo with us and the friendly dogs around who chilled out in the sun during the few hours of relative warmth.


Some of our views ahead were unreal- one could actually not tell if a photo had been inverted or not with the mountains getting replicated on the water better than a copier every could. IMG_1977Just a few meters before we reached the top to Deskit Gompa, a tire of our car decided to get punctured! Much to Skarma’s amusement, with everyone pitching in, we were done with the tyre change in just a few minutes. The 32-meter statue of the Maitreya Buddha in vivid colours is visible well before you reach the place in stark contrast to the surroundings in neutral hues. IMG_2028The monastery is one of the oldest and largest in the Nubra valley and while monasteries are almost always atop craggy hills, it still never fails to make you wonder how they were even constructed there.IMG_1984


We moved on from the statue and then climbed up the steps of the white-walled monastery. IMG_2052IMG_2064And despite its beauty, what was truly wondrous to me was a little kitten that came directly to me and like one’s supposed to, we proceeded to pet it for the rest of our time there. IMG_2090We spent some time in the prayer halls and temples within the monastery and slowly made our way back.IMG_2081


We soon reached the Hunder Sand dunes where we crossed a narrow stretch of the Shyok river and landed in probably the only place on our trip that had a significant number of people all in one location. What’s impossible to miss are the rows of Bactrian camels available to be ridden on. Incidentally, all of us in the group decided to skip that, and instead decided to do something that was even more fun, sliding down sand dunes and watching the evening change colours with the setting sun!IMG_3591IMG_2131IMG_2152


We stayed the night at a hotel Sten-Del which had excellent service and food- if you needed more incentive it even had Mani Ratnam stay there during the making of one of his movies. So well, that was our celebrity connection for this trip. But we didn’t really need it, after all, we had seen snowfall and sand dunes in the desert- all in one day- I wonder how many other places could boast of that!

We headed back to Leh the next day stopping for yet another round of snow-fights at Khardungla, however, I’m sorry to report that we were badly defeated yet again. IMG_3623Ah well , we’ll deal with Skarma when he comes to visit us in the warm plains on our own home ground – maybe in a dosa-eating contest, another battle for another time.IMG_3633