THE THUNDER DRAGON KINGDOM

FeaturedTHE THUNDER DRAGON KINGDOM

 

Do not get horrified by this title. Druk tsendhen – “The Thunder Dragon kingdom” is our own little Himalayan kingdom – Bhutan. This is not simply a blog/article, but a collection of my writings on my recent visit to this thunderland, with three of my friends – Saket, Tushar and Bhavya – all from VJTI, Mumbai. Since it was a long visit and we were continuously travelling between different cities, it has a great length and I’ve hence divided it into different parts hierarchically. The first part gives a general glimpse of the nation – its people, religion, life, etc. Others are my personal experiences. I’ve put in a great effort to present the best of the things in a neutral, unbiased point of view, so please feel free to comment and question me!

  1. About Bhutan
  2. The Journey to the Kingdom
  3. Phuentsholing
  4. Thimphu
  5. Dochula
  6. Punakha
  7. Paro
  8. Bhutanese Food
  9. Back to Mumbai
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5 WONDERFUL FACTS ABOUT BANGLADESH

Featured5 WONDERFUL FACTS ABOUT BANGLADESH

 

 

Bangladesh, with an ever-rising economy, truly has the potential to be the regional power of South Asia alongside India. Today, although it has a significant poverty, more and more people are being added to middle class every year. Big cities like Dhaka are getting more and more equipped with modern facilities like malls and hotels. Although there can be several stories of its success, here’s my compilation of the wonderful facts of Bangladesh.

  1. Bangladesh is building the third highest building in the world.

The 142 storey, 743 metres high Grand Iconic tower in Dhaka on completion will be the third highest building in the world, after the under-construction Jeddah Tower and Burj Khalifa and the tallest building on the Indian subcontinent. The construction will start in 2018.

An artist’s impression of the Iconic Towers
  1. Bangladesh is a leading textile exporter.

The textile industry is the highest contributor to the exports of Bangladesh, due to a demand for cheap textiles. These textiles are exported to as far as USA, Canada and Europe. Surprisingly, one of my brother’s t-shirts also carried a label ‘Made in Bangladesh’. In 2016, textiles accounted for 86% of the country’s exports.

  1. Although Bangladesh separated from Pakistan which left the country in a devastating state, it is growing much faster than Pakistan.

Today Pakistan is in a miserable state with a dysfunctional democracy, dominance by the military and rebellions for independence in Balochistan and Pak occupied Kashmir. Amidst all this chaos, Bangladesh has managed to retain the image of one of the fastest growing economies. In 2016, Bangladesh grew at 6.92%, faster than India and China and much faster than Pakistan, at 4.7%. Devastated economies like Zimbabwe also grew faster than Pakistan in the same year.

abbasi_hasina

  1. Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh has the world’s longest beach.

Cox’s Bazar is a town in the south-eastern part of Bangladesh. It has a 120 km long unbroken sea beach, which is the longest beach in the world. Yet, despite its natural beauty, it is not a major international tourist destination.

  1. Bangladesh has some of the most fertile lands and the broadest rivers.

The two broadest rivers of India – Ganga and Brahmaputra merge in Bangladesh to form river Padma. Hence, one can imagine the breadth and the fertility of the soil on its banks. The delta of these rivers is also the largest in the world. The Bangabandhu bridge built on river Brahmaputra is 5.63 km long and the sixth largest in South Asia. These rivers are well suited for fishing, transportation and their soil for cultivating rice, jute, etc.

rivers_proper
Rivers of Bangladesh

References:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iconic_Towers
  2. https://www.worldfinance.com/markets/bangladesh-textiles-industry-set-global-export-record
  3. http://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-pakistan-bangladesh-textiles/textiles-on-the-move-from-pakistan-to-bangladesh-idUKTRE77T11020110830
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_real_GDP_growth_rate
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cox%27s_Bazar

THE CITY OF AMBABAI

THE CITY OF AMBABAI

I wanted to write about this when I visited it in December last year. Once a famous princely state, Kolhapur has given Maharashtra its legacy, be it Kolhapuri misal, Kolhapuri chappal, the traditional form of wrestling and Kolhapuri dishes. Even today, Kolhapuri chicken is relished as a hot and spicy dish all over India and the world. In fact, the generalization of Indian food being “too spicy” among Westerners owes much to this Kolhapuri cuisine. Since I could not write about it in more than 10 months, I thought that this period of Navaratri is the best time to describe the city of Goddess Mahalaxmi, locally known as ‘Ambabai’.

Reaching There

We travelled from Mumbai to Kolhapur by rail on board the Sahyadri Express, which reaches Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj Terminus Kolhapur (I’ll introduce this person further in the article) at 6 am. The train has old coaches, most of them manufactured from 1995-97, and hence no charging sockets are available.

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Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj Terminus Railway Stn., Kolhapur

A Slice of History: Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj

There were two Shahus in the history of Maharashtra. The first was Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj, the grandson of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and the son of Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj. While Aurangazeb had killed Sambhaji, Yesubai and Shahu were still under his captivity. After the death of Aurangazeb in 1707, his successor Bahadur Shah released him, to create a struggle for the Maratha throne between him and Tarabai’s minor son, Shivaji II. This was a huge rift in the Maratha empire, with the empire having two centres of power, with one at Satara, being controlled by Shahu, and the other at Kolhapur, being controlled by Tarabai.

The Kolhapur centre was a namesake autonomous kingdom with no formal recognition. It controlled an area what is today the Kolhapur district. Shahu later was also successful in releasing his mother Yesubai from Mughal captivity. Shahu appointed Balaji Vishwanath as the Peshwa, and under their leadership, the Maratha empire reached new heights and expanded to as far as Bengal in the east, Gujarat in the west and Gwalior in the north. It came within 370 kms of the Mughal capital, Delhi. The visible decline of the once mighty Mughal Empire had already started.

Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj, grandson of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj (Wikipedia)
The lineage of Maratha emperors (Quora)

While the rule of the Peshwa in the Maratha Empire ended in 1818 with the Third Anglo-Maratha War, its vassal states like Indore, Kolhapur and Nagpur continued to exist. Kolhapur was an ally of the British, and did not rebel in the Anglo-Maratha wars, which allowed the princely state to exist till 14th August 1947, when it was merged with India.

The second Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj was an heir of this Kolhapur state (also known as Karveer), due to which he was also the direct heir of Shivaji Maharaj through his wife Soyarabai. He ascended on the throne in 1894 and ruled till his death in 1922. He is well-known as a social reformer, who worked for the upliftment of lower castes, building about 21 hostels and 420 schools occupying as many as 22,000 students.

Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj of Kolhapur (newstale.in)
Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj of Kolhapur at the New Palace

The New Palace

The New Palace was the official residence of the Maharaja of Kolhapur, which has been converted into a museum today. It was constructed between 1877-84. It houses some of the most intricate artefacts of the Marathas, such as swords, letters and taxidermized wild animals hunted by Shahu Maharaj. Additionally, there is a small historic document showing the entire lineage of the kings of Kolhapur and Satara, tracing Shivaji’s roots to Rajputs. However, photography is not permitted inside the museum.

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The New Palace, Kolhapur
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Try to guess what is this: that’s actually a toilet in the New Palace compound

Etymology

The city is known by two names – Kolhapur and Karveer. Karveer or Karvir is also the name of the taluka in which the city lies. A legend says that Lord Shiva killed a demon Karveerasur, and hence the place came to be known by his name. After this, a demon named Kolhasur was killed here by Goddess Laxmi by assuming the avatar of Mahalaxmi. However, before dying, the Goddess granted his wish that the place be named after him. Hence, the name ‘Kolhapur’ came into existence. Kolhasura was killed on Ashwina Shukla Panchami (5th day of the Ashwin month in the waning phase of the moon), which falls in Navaratri, and coincidentally is also the day when I’m writing this blog. I’m not sure if Kolhasura was named so for his face resembling a fox (called ‘kolha’ in Marathi).

The Mahalaxmi Temple

The Mahalaxmi Temple, dedicated to Shri Mahalaxmi, wife of Lord Vishnu, locally known as Goddess Ambabai, was built by the Chalukyas in the 7th century CE, at the mythological battleground of the fight with Kolhasura. The idol in the temple is made up of a gemstone and weighs 40 kgs. The temple is one among the 108 Shakti Peethas.

The Goddess at the temple

 

The temple (indiapilgrimtours.com)
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The deepstambhas (lamps) at the temple

There is a long queue to enter the temple. Cameras are not allowed inside. Gents are not allowed to enter the sanctum sanctorum (garbha-griha) during aartis. One of my friends had recalled a superstition that it is not possible to count the number of pillars of the temple and one who does so dies. However, the structure of the temple is such that it is difficult to identify which is exactly a pillar and which is not. Also, you are not allowed to roam freely inside and are bound to obey the queue. Hence, it is not possible to digress the rules to count the number of pillars inside. It might have been possible in the 18th century, but not today or in the future.

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A ‘Nandi bail’ outside the temple: it is one of many ways of begging from shopkeepers

The environment outside the temple is more or less similar to every major temple in Maharashtra. There is one particular shop here outside, which sells currency notes with their number matching your date of birth. They charge anywhere between INR 500 – 1000 and deliver them at your doorstep after 3-4 weeks. Don’t know how do they do it, and if this currency is real, and moreover it is doubtful if they do it through legal means.

The temple has its own Annachhatra (free food service), which is located outside the temple campus, around 100 metres away. The approach roads are short and are bustling with hawkers, small eateries and vegetable vendors, much similar to Crawford Market in Mumbai or Laxmi Road in Pune. The Annachhatra is itself located in a hall on the first floor of an old building, with a noisy vegetable market outside. Visitors are supposed to remove their footwear here before climbing upstairs. Although I was initially sceptical of the kind of food served, it was actually good, considering the number of devotees taking it every day.

The old palace of the Maharaja of Kolhapur is also located close by, though we did not pay a visit,

Rankala Lake

The Rankala (pronounced रंकाळा) is a lake located about a kilometre from the temple. The area around the lake looks modern and well organized. There is a walkway around this lake, filled with chaat vendors and sellers offering their toys (such as baby cars) on rent. The water of the lake is somewhat polluted, with people throwing rubbish like waste garlands (nirmalya). It is unfortunate to see stray dogs drinking this water, without them realising how polluted it is.

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The Rankala Lake
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Waste in the water at Rankala lake
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A dog drinking water from the lake

The chaat stalls located around the lake sell local chaat varieties. These include sev puris made with hollow puris, those used for making Pani Puri (called Golgappe in Delhi and North India).

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The sev puri at Rankala
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The chaat stalls, Rankala
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The area around Rankala: there are plenty of options to eat here, including Domino’s

Food and transportation

Online food ordering apps like Swiggy, Zomato, Foodpanda and Uber Eats don’t offer services here, hence Google Maps is the only reliable source to find good restaurants. Both, traditional and modern restaurants are found here.

The famous delicacies of Kolhapur are Kolhapuri Misal, Kolhapuri chicken and Tambda and Pandhra Rassa (a thin white and red gravy). The ‘rassa’ is essentially oil, water, meat stock and spices.

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A traditional non-veg thali with Tambda and Pandhra Rassa
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Kolhapuri misal pav
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A variety of icecreams at a posh icecream corner, eating it in chill December 😉 The second from left is a cocktail icecream, with fruits and cake

Transportation is cheaper within the city. Auto rickshaws operate by meter and Ola also operates its services for cabs and autos.

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जेवण तयार आहे पण हॉटेल तर बंद आहे! A restaurant advertising as “Lunch is ready” while it itself being closed ><)

‘Bhadang’ is a famous farsan available in Kolhapur. It is essentially kurmure (puffed rice) roasted with spices, mainly a considerable amount of red chilli powder and groundnuts.

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The bhadang farsan

Kolhapuri Footwear

Apart from food, Kolhapur is famous for its peculiar chappals, i.e. footwear. These chappals are made from weather and are said to last for a lifetime if maintained well and not used in the rainy season.

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A local Kolhapuri chappal shop: observe that it accepts payments through Paytm: the digital currency has already penetrated small cities

Panhalgad

The Panhala Fort, situated 20 kms northwest of Kolhapur, was built by the Shilahara ruler Bhoja II in the 12th century CE. The fort occupies an important place in the history of Maharashtra.

The fort was conquered by Shivaji Maharaj from Adilshahi in 1659. In 1660, in order to regain the fort back, the ruler sent Siddi Jauhar to lay siege to the fort. Shivaji later escaped the fort by fooling Siddi using Shiva Kashid, a look-alike barber to confuse them as to who real Shivaji was. Shivaji later fled to Vishalgad and this ensued the battle of Pawan Khind fought by Baji Prabhu Deshpande. The fort then switched sides frequently, the details of which are given below in references.

We did not visit the fort as the cab drivers’ rates were exorbitantly high for a 40 km ride (about INR 2500-3000) (to and fro). However, Mahrashtra State Transport buses are available at Kolhapur Central Bus Station to reach the fort.

Panhalgad and the statue of Shiva Kashid (thehistoryhub.com)

Back to Mumbai

We came back to Mumbai via the same Sahyadri Express, with the same old coaches and expired infrastructure. On the other hand, Mahalaxmi Express, which also operates between Mumbai and Kolhapur has modern coaches and better facilities, so I would recommend you this train if you are travelling from Mumbai. We could not book tickets because the train was already full by then. Kolhapur is connected by trains from major cities like Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Nagpur, Delhi, etc. It also has an airport with flights being operated under the UDAN scheme to Mumbai. Air Deccan is the only airline that serves this airport. There is a proposal to name this airport after Chhatrapati Rajaram Maharaj.

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The Sahyadri Express at Dadar station, Mumbai

This was my second visit to Kolhapur, the first being in 2003 when I got the privilege of visiting paper and sugar mills and dairies around the city. Back then, we had stayed at Warananagar, about 27 km from Kolhapur. A few days later I visited another holy town, Shegaon, the residence of Shri Gajanan Maharaj, which will be covered soon. Kolhapur is a great city, hope to visit again, including a visit to Panhalgad!

References:

Note: All links mentioned here were used by me as a reference. I do not support the ideology expressed in either of them.

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahalakshmi_Temple,_Kolhapur
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shahu_of_Kolhapur
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maratha_Empire#Shahu
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kolhapur_State
  5. https://www.livemint.com/Leisure/PLkr7jdpCeZepho8RMVJbN/Rajarshi-Shahu-Chhatrapati-of-Kolhapur-a-reformer-ahead-of.html
  6. http://www.newstale.in/name-of-chhatrapati-rajaram-maharaj-at-kolhapur-airport/
  7. http://www.ambabai.com/mythology.html
  8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kolhapuri_chappal
  9. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panhala_Fort

HOW MUMBAI’S RAILWAY STATIONS GOT THEIR NAMES: CENTRAL RAILWAY

HOW MUMBAI’S RAILWAY STATIONS GOT THEIR NAMES: CENTRAL RAILWAY

 

I know that there is an already enough theory available on this subject. However, none of the sources covers the entire list and moreover, nobody lists them in a correct order. Hence, I attempted to trace the etymology of all stations of the Central Railway by referring these discrete sources; yet, there are many remote stations of villages for which no data can be found. It would be really helpful if anyone knows and contributes to this incomplete article. Please let me know in the ‘Comments’ section.Most of the railway stations were named after villages located in the area or after important personalities (applicable mainly for those located in the city). The villages after whom the stations were named were established in the Shilahara period (a dynasty which ruled Konkan and Mumbai from the 8th to the 13th century CE) and were then named after temples or trees growing in the area. Due to urbanization, these temples and trees may not exist today, but the legacy of their name does.

As we depart farther from Mumbai, the stations existing today were traditionally villages developed only due to a rail access in the British era. Hence, their etymology is unclear. Nevertheless, after hours of web surfing, I came up with this list. I’ll update whenever I get further information.

  1. Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (छत्रपती शिवाजी महाराज टर्मिनस): The station was initially called Bori Bunder from which the first passenger train ran till Thane in 1853. The word ‘Bori Bunder’ came from ‘bori’ meaning sacks and ‘bunder’ which is the Persian word for port; hence a port where sacks are stored. Another theory says that the name came from bor trees which were abundant in the area. In 1888, it was rebuilt as ‘Victoria Terminus’ after Queen Victoria of England. In 1996, its name was changed to ‘Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST)’ after Shivaji Maharaj, the founder of the Maratha empire and once again in 2017, the word ‘Maharaj’ was added to the station’s name to signify the king.
  2. Masjid (मस्जिद): The word ‘Masjid’ actually does not refer to any mosque. It refers to a Jewish synagogue located in the area, popularly known as ‘Juni Masjid’ by the locals.
  3. Sandhurst Road (सैंडहर्स्ट रोड): The station is named after Lord Sandhurst, the governor of Bombay between 1895 and 1900.
  4. Byculla (भायखळा): This name, again, has two theories. It may have originated from a local name of the golden shower tree (Cassia fistula). Another account suggests that this place may have been the threshing ground of an individual called ‘Bhaya’.
  5. Chinchpokli (चिंचपोकळी): The name comes from tamarind trees, known as ‘chinch’ in Marathi which used to grow in this area.
  6. Currey Road (करी रोड): The station has been named after C. Currey, who was the Agent (head) of BB & CI (Bombay Baroda and Central India) Railways from 1865 to 1875.
  7. Parel (परळ): A theory suggests that the Parel village, after whom the station is named, derives its name from the trumpet flower, known as ‘paral’ in Marathi. Another one says that it comes from Parali Vaijnath Mahadev Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva.
  8. Dadar (दादर): The word ‘Dadar’ means ladder or staircase in Marathi. It was one of the seven islands of Bombay and might have been named so because it acted so to a major island.
  9. Matunga (माटुंगा): It gets its name from the Sanskrit word for elephant ‘matanga’. It is said that King Bhimdeo of Mahikawati (today’s Mahim) used to station his elephants here.
  10. Sion (शीव): The English word ‘Sion’ traces its origin to the 16th century in Portuguese-ruled Bombay. The rulers allocated some of the lands to Jesuit priests and they built a chapel in this area after Mount Zion. The Marathi word ‘Sheev’ does not refer to Lord Shiva. In this case, it means ‘stitching’ or a boundary. As this area was at the border of Salsette island (today’s Suburban district) and the seven islands, hence the name.
  11. Kurla (कुर्ला): The word is derived from a local village ‘Kurli’ which means crabs, as they were found in plenty in the marshes.
  12. Vidyavihar (विद्याविहार): The station was built only in 1963 and hence has a pretty modern etymology. It was built to cater students at the Somaiya Vidyavihar campus established in 1959 and hence its name. ‘Vidyavihar’ means the ‘abode of education’.
  13. Ghatkopar (घाटकोपर): It is said that the area was cleared by drilling ghats in the mountains. The name is likely corrupted from ‘Ghat ke upar’ which means above the ghats.
  14. Vikhroli (विक्रोळी): The station was built just before India’s independence in 1947 to serve the sprawling Godrej Complex. The name is derived from a village named so, likely after Vikhrauli or Vikharvali, where ‘vikhar’ means poison and ‘vali’ is a small village.
  15. Kanjurmarg (कांजुरमार्ग): The station is named after Kanjur village and was built in 1968. It was earlier known as ‘Kanzere’ but the origin of this name is unclear.
  16. Bhandup (भांडुप): The name is derived from the Bhandupeshwar Mahadev Mandir, which still exists in Bhandup West. Bhandupeshwar is one of the names of Lord Shiva.
  17. Nahur (नाहूर): The word is likely from ‘nau’ which means ‘barber’ in Marathi. This area could have been a centre of barbers’ economic activities in the Shilahara period.
  18. Mulund (मुलुंड): The name is corrupted from an ancient city ‘Mul-kund’ (मुळकुंड) of the Mauryan period. It might be one of the oldest names still in use in Mumbai.
  19. Thane (ठाणे): Thane was the capital of the Shilahara dynasty. It was known as ‘Sri Sthanaka’, which means ‘a beautiful place’. The beauty is still preserved today, albeit with modern skyscrapers, criss-crossing bridges, lakes and a well-organised railway station. However, the name of the place could have been corrupted to ‘Thane’ due to Persian influence. The present area of Panchpakadi was the location of the royal palace of the dynasty.
  20. Kalwa (कळवा): The name is corrupted from ‘Kalwe’ but not much information has been found.
  21. Mumbra (मुंब्रा): Mumbra was a village of the Agri and Koli community. The place was a bustling port in the 17th century for spices and fruits. The place is named after Mumbra Devi, a goddess of the local community.
  22. Diva (दिवा): The name is likely derived from ‘Dive’, which is a part of numerous villages in Maharashtra. Although the word literally means ‘lights’, I’m not sure if this is what the village was meant for.
  23. Kopar (कोपर): The word ‘kopar’ in Marathi means a corner. The word is used in several names of places such as ‘Kopar Khairane’ and Kopri. The name might have developed from the location of the place, forming a corner at river Ulhas.
  24. Dombivli (डोंबिवली): At a time when the caste system was highly prevalent, in the 14th century, the lower caste and higher caste people could not stay in the same village. The name was derived from the village of a lower caste people known as ‘Dombas’ who performed the last rites of the dead.
  25. Thakurli (ठाकुर्ली): This was the place where the higher caste ‘Thakurs’ lived and hence the name. Ironically, today Dombivli is a significant station with several platforms with fast trains halting and Thakurli is more or less insignificant with just two platforms catering only to slow trains.
  26. Kalyan (कल्याण): This is a historic port city along the Ulhas river which rose to prominence in the Mughal period. It was earlier known as ‘Kallian’ or ‘Callianee’. The word ‘Kalyan’ in Sanskrit means auspicious.
  27. Vitthalwadi (विठ्ठलवाडी): The area was dotted by temples and ponds, one of them being dedicated to Lord Vitthal. The name has been perhaps derived from the same.
  28. Ulhasnagar (उल्हासनगर): The town is modern, it was established to station soldiers from World War II and refugees from Sindh after the partition. The name is derived from river Ulhas on the banks of which the town is located.
  29. Ambarnath (अंबरनाथ): Ambarnath literally means ‘Lord of the Sky’ and refers to Lord Shiva. The name is derived from a temple built in 1060 CE which still stands in its historic posture in the city.
  30. Badlapur (बदलापूर): The word ‘badla’ means not revenge, but ‘change’ in Marathi. The place is located at the foothills of the Sahyadris, at the boundary between the hills and the coastal plains of Konkan. During the times of Shivaji Maharaj, the horses specially trained for hills could not run well in the coastal plains and vice-versa. Hence, the horses were supposed to be ‘changed’ at this place.
  31. Waterpipe (वॉरपाईप): Nothing special – the station is named so because it has water pipes in its vicinity. These water pipes supply water to Matheran.
  32. Matheran (माथेरान): The name comes from two words – ‘mathe’ meaning ‘top’ and ‘ran’ meaning forest, i.e. a forest on top of a hill. Before the British could begin settlement as a hill station, the area was dominated by hill tribes.
  33. Palasdhari (पळसधरी): Another place named from vegetation – likely from palash trees.
  34. Khopoli (खोपोली): The name has been corrupted from ‘Khopivli’, a historic village where Nana Fadnavis, a great Maratha minister built the Vireshwar Mahadev Temple.
  35. Ambivli (आंबिवली): The name is a corruption of the word ‘Ambauli’, but its correlation with mango trees is not determined.
  36. Titwala (टिटवाळा): The place was earlier known as ‘Intwally’ (इंटवाली) meaning ‘made of bricks’. It may have been corrupted to Titwala.
  37. Vasind (वासिंद): Beyond Vasind towards Kasara, the tracks were laid on an incline and Vasind was the last station to be built, hence it was then locally known as ‘Fullshahar’, i.e. ‘full city’.

References:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bori_Bunder_railway_station
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bori_Bunder
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chhatrapati_Shivaji_Terminus_railway_station
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandhurst_Road
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masjid_railway_station
  6. https://archive.org/details/bombayplacenames00sheprich/page/46
  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cassia_fistula
  8. https://www.quora.com/What-are-some-interesting-origin-stories-about-the-names-of-places-in-Mumbai
  9. https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-history-behind-naming-the-stations-in-Mumbai
  10. http://mumbaimag.com/mumbai-list-no-4-how-areas-in-mumbai-got-their-names/
  11. http://sudeep-the-quintessential-indian.blogspot.com/2010/07/etymology-of-mumbai.html
  12. https://homegrown.co.in/article/6672/how-train-stations-in-mumbai-were-named/
  13. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vidyavihar#History
  14. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vikhroli
  15. https://wikivisually.com/wiki/Nahur
  16. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shilahara
  17. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thane
  18. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dombivli

CHILIKA: THE ABODE OF DOLPHINS

CHILIKA: THE ABODE OF DOLPHINS

The Chilika Lake, contrary to its name is a salt water lagoon. A lagoon is a lake connected to the sea with an extremely thin strait. This is how the lake looks from a satellite view:

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The satellite view of the lake

Chilika is the largest lagoon in India and the second largest in the world after the New Caledonian Barrier Reef. The only other lagoon on the east coast is Pulicat Lake near Chennai, which is surrounded to its east by ISRO’s Satish Dhawan Space Centre.

The lower bank Chilika is just 64 km from the border with Andhra Pradesh and this part of the lake is also visible from the railway line. The tourist junction of Chilika from Puri side is Satapada, about 47 km away.

Historical Significance

Historically, Chilika has been an important location for commerce and trade. Ships halted and departed from this lake for Java, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, etc. The villagers around this lake also celebrate a festival annually known as the ‘Bali Yatra’ (journey to Bali). In 1803, the British also embanked on this lake to occupy Orissa with the help of Fateh Muhammad, who showed them the route to Puri.

Ecosystem

The Chilika Lake has a sensitive ecosystem. Tourists visit Chilika to get a glimpse of the dolphins, known as the Irrawaddy dolphins. This is an endangered dolphin species found in the lake, Bay of Bengal and South East Asia. The name ‘Irrawaddy’ comes from a river in Myanmar which meets the Bay of Bengal. A covered motor boat rides around the lake for an hour, and one can spot at least 3-4 dolphins.

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The dolphins in the lake
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The tourist boat for dolphin viewing

Apart from these dolphins, there are several birds found in this lake.

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A stork in the lake

Kalijai Temple

There is a temple located on an island inside the lake dedicated to Goddess Kali. It was built by by Sri Jagannath Mansingh, king of Bankad (currently known as Banapur) in the year 1717. The legend says that a young newly married girl named ‘Jai’ and her father were on their way to meet the in-laws on an island in Chilika Lake. As they were travelling on a ferry to the island, a storm capsized their boat but everyone survived except the girl. It is said that she later became the Goddess Kali worshipped today in the temple.

The Kalijai idols (Wikipedia)
The temple

Fisheries

The Chilika ecosystem is most suitable for fisheries, which include prawns, crabs, and fresh water fishes.

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A fisherman’s family (model at the museum)
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Bamboos erected for providing directions to fishermen and tourist boats

Chilika Development Authority

The Chilika Lake is undergoing constant changes in its geology. The Magarmukh Channel, which connects Chilika to the Bay of Bengal started chocking up and this caused drastic changes in the salinity of the lagoon, which could have been fatal for its aquatic life. In view of these negative developments, the Odisha government set up the Chilika Development Authority in 1992. The CDA successfully re-opened the channel by creating a new mouth.

The CDA has set up an eco-park which contains the skeleton of a blue whale drifted ashore in 2007.

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The skeleton of the blue whale

The CDA also maintains a museum showing the preservation efforts and information about the Chilika ecosystem.

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The skeleton of a dolphin in the museum

Sea planes in Chilika

The Civil Aviation Ministry has approved a proposal to set up sea plane aerodomes in Chilika Lake, Sardar Sarovar Dam and Sabarmati Riverfront in Ahmedabad. This means that we would soon be able to land in the lake through a sea plane.

Final Words

To conclude, this was one of the longest tours I’ve ever been to as I covered three different cities in two different states, by all three modes of transport – rail, road and air. We travelled a distance of about 4000 km in all. It took us 10 days in all, from 19th to 28th May, covering all the IPL playoffs and the final.

It was also special for me as it was my last tour ex-Mumbai, as now I’ve moved to Bengaluru to work at Samsung R&D Institute. Visiting Mumbai now would be like a tour for me!

References:

    1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chilika_Lake
    2. https://web.archive.org/web/20081207100906/http://www.chilika.com/history.htm
    3. http://www.chilika.com/home.php
    4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irrawaddy_dolphin
    5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalijai
    6. http://www.bhubaneswarbuzz.com/updates/travel-tourism/seaplanes-reality-soon-centre-clears-water-aerodrome-proposal-chilika-lake-part-first-launch

 

KONARK: THE SUN TEMPLE

KONARK: THE SUN TEMPLE
The iconic Sun Temple is dedicated to Lord Surya, once a widely worshipped Hindu God. It was built by King Narasimha Deva in the 1250 CE. The temple was probably destroyed by the Mughals from the 15th to 17th centuries, but the cause of destruction remains unclear. The word ‘Konark’ comprises of two words – ‘Kona’ meaning corner and ‘Arka’ meaning Sun. The temple was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.

Reaching Konark

Konark is about 37 kms north of Puri and the road runs through the Balukhand-Konark Wildlife Sanctuary. The road consists of two lanes and is covered by trees on both the sides, offering an excellent shady patch to drive on.

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The road to Konark

The Sun Temple

The temple took 12 years to get constructed, from 1243 to 1255 and was built by 1200 artisans. According to a Quora answer [3], the son of the main architect committed suicide by jumping into the river Chandrabhaga after the completion of the temple fearing capital punishment from the king and hence, the temple was believed to be impure and was subsequently never worshipped.

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The original temple comprised of three parts – the Rekha Deul, the Pidha Deul (Jagamohana) and the Nat Mandir, of which only the Pidha Deul is clearly visible today. Some remains of the Nat Mandir are also preserved. Preservation efforts were undertaken by both the British as well as Indian governments. Further removal of stones was prohibited, minor falling structures were buttressed and the temple is constantly supported by iron pillars today, to prevent any further collapse. The last such collapse occurred in 1848. The temple has since been well maintained by the ASI.

The original structure of the temple (thekonark.in)
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The plans of the original structure (by the ASI)
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The remains of the Nat Mandir
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Architecture in the Nat Mandir

This temple was called the “Black Pagoda” in European sailor accounts as early as 1676 because its great tower appeared black. Similarly, the Jagannath Temple in Puri was called the “White Pagoda”. Both temples served as important landmarks for sailors in the Bay of Bengal.

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The Entrance

The entrance to the temple is embellished by a statue of two lions, killing elephants and a man below the elephants. The lions represent the pride, the elephants signify the wealth and it sends a message that pride kills both the wealth and the man.

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The Konark Wheel

The temple was constructed as a giant chariot with 24 wheels being pulled by the horses. Some of these wheels remain in the original structure while the others are either destroyed or taken to the museum nearby. The wheels have turned into a symbolic representation of the Konark.

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The ‘Magnet’ Theory

A popular theory about the Konark temple is the usage of magnets in its construction. It was speculated that the architects used powerful magnets (lode stones) in the construction of the temple and the main idol was made up of iron thus making it float in the air without any physical support. However, being close to the sea, the magnets caused the ships’ compasses to malfunction and as a result, some Portuguese voyagers removed the central magnet resulting in the temple’s fall. However, there are no historical records supporting this theory whether any magnets did really exist in the temple. The cause of the temple’s destruction yet remains a mystery.

Konark Museum

The Archaeological Survey of India has built a museum besides the temple. It houses various fallen and destroyed sculptures from the temple as well as provides insights about its history.

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The Konark Museum
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An idol of Ganesha in the museum

Shopping and dining

Very few options are available for dining, a restaurant owned by Odisha Tourism Development Corporation is one of them. Only rice was primarily available in this restaurant, and the other restaurants didn’t seem as hygienic as this one.

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A large papad at the restaurant: though we didn’t get this raw papad anywhere in the market

Miniature replicas of the full Konark temple, Konark Wheel, idols of Jagannath, ornaments made from beads, etc. are available as souvenirs outside the temple. As compared to other tourist destinations, they are available here at a cheaper price.

Chandrabhaga

Chandrabhagha is a small town on the coastline, about 3kms from Konark. It is known for the Chandrabhaga Temple and the beach. Recently, the Chandrabhaga beach became the first in Asia to receive a Blue Flag certification. A beach with this certification needs to meet prescribed standards for quality and cleanliness and the certification is awarded by the Foundation for Environmental Education. This makes Chandrabhaga beach the one and only to receive the certification in Asia. One in every six beaches with a blue flag is in Spain.

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Chandrabhaga beach and temple

The next day, we set ourselves to the south of Puri to view one of the biggest lagoons in India – the Chilika lake.

References:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Konark_Sun_Temple
  2. http://www.thekonark.in/
  3. https://www.quora.com/Did-people-or-priests-ever-worship-the-God-in-the-Konark-Sun-Temple-Folklore-says-it-never-happened
  4. http://www.thekonark.in/fallofkonark.html
  5. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/chandrabhaga-beach-gets-blue-flag-tag-heres-what-it-means/articleshow/64473078.cms?from=mdr

PURI: JAI JAGANNATH

PURI: JAI JAGANNATH

In India, the word ‘Puri’ can mean two things – a dish that we eat and the city of Lord Jagannath. The former is however known as ‘lucchi’ in Odia and Bengali. Jagannath is in fact, a representation of Lord Krishna. The city of Puri is famous for two places – the temple and the beach.

The Journey

We departed for Puri from Bhubaneshwar by road. All vehicles need to pay an entry tax before entering Puri, which costs something around INR 5-10. The road to Puri is a well-built 4 lane national highway which occasionally evolves into 6 lanes.

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The Bhubaneshwar – Puri National highway
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Looks like the BJP is trying to make its inroads into this state, you can see such posters and paintings all over Bhubaneshwar, Puri and the major highways

Malatipatpur is a small town between Bhubaneshwar and Puri, yet has a magnificently great, disproportionate railway station terminal and an extraordinary bus station.

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Malatipatpur railway station
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Malatipatpur bus station

We booked our stay at Blue Lily Beach Resort, about 7 kms from the main city. The hotel is substantially large and has a swimming pool too. During our hotel stay, there was a parallel Ram Katha session organized by Amar Bihari Pathak and countless followers had inundated the hotel. The hotel’s restaurant also refused to serve non-veg cooked in tandoor until their stay elapsed.

Jagannath Temple

Etymologically, ‘Jagannath’ comprises of two words – ‘Jagat’ meaning ‘universe’ and ‘Nath’ meaning ‘Lord’. The Jagannath Temple is one of the Char Dhams. It is dedicated to Lord Krishna, his brother Balarama and sister Subhadra. The temple has an interesting story of construction. It was constructed in 10th century CE by King Anantavarman Chodaganga Deva. The idol is believed to be set up by King Indrayumna, the successor of Bharat according to the Mahabharata. It is believed that Adi Shankaracharya, the man behind unifying Hinduism also visited Puri. There are several legends about the temple deities, with some claiming it to be Lord Narasimha, another avatar of Vishnu and others claiming it to be originally a Jain or a Buddhist temple. According to a principal legend, Lord Krishna was killed by a hunter in Dwarka and his corpse floated as a tree trunk and appeared at the coast of Puri, after navigating a long journey along the coasts of the Indian peninsula. The idol of the deity is believed to contain this tree trunk. More details can be found here: [3][4][5][6][7]

The idols in the Jagannath Temple (The Statesman)
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The Jagannath Temple
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The dome of the temple as seen from our hotel

The Jagannath Temple has strict rules and regulations. All metallic items, such as mobile phones, belts, cameras, etc. are strictly prohibited. A board outside the temple states that only ‘orthodox Hindus’ are allowed to enter. Previously, Dalits were also refused entry into the temple and Gandhiji too, was refused as he tried to enter along with them. Other famous people who were rejected entry were Indira Gandhi, as she married a non-Hindu and Sant Kabir, as he was dressed like a Muslim. The temple administration avows that the rules are justified because the temple is meant only for true devotees and is not a place for sight-seeing.

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The temple organizes a Ratha Yatra annually, in the Hindu calendar month of Aashadha, which corresponds to the Gregorian months of June or July. The deities are brought outside the temple, they are placed on a chariot and they travel 3km to the Gundicha Temple. The English word ‘juggernaut’ which means an unstoppable force is derived from the description of this Ratha Yatra.

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Preparation for the Rath Yatra

The temple had once averted a destruction by Mughal officials. The story goes that Aurangzeb had commanded to destroy the temple, but the Mughal officials on duty were bribed by the locals in Puri. The temple was merely closed for a while and reopened again, after the death of Aurangzeb in 1707.

The parking for the temple is about a kilometre away and bus facilities are available to drop at the temple gate for INR 10 per person. The parking, however, is somewhat unregulated and extremely unhygienic.

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A man urinating at the same place which says “Do not urinate here”

Puri Beach

Puri has a long strip of sandy beach, which provides an ideal location for building hotels and resorts. The part of the beach located close to the main city draws significantly more tourists than those on the outskirts, which is quite silent. The roads near the beach are too narrow and insufficient for a growing city.

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Puri beach
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A crab on the beach: You need to walk carefully here, the beach is full of crabs
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The growing city of Puri

Puri Railway Station

Puri is connected to Khurdha Road, a major junction on the Chennai-Howrah line, near Bhubaneshwar. A Shatabdi Express also connects Puri to Howrah and was seen in M. S. Dhoni – The Untold Story at Kharagpur station.

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Puri railway station area
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Approaching the railway station
The Puri – Howrah Shatabdi accidentally shown in M. S. Dhoni – The Untold Story

Japanese Temple

There is a small Japanese temple at the Sudarshan Crafts Museum near the railway station. The temple was closed when we paid a visit.

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Me standing in front of the Japanese temple

Shopping

There are several handicraft and cloth shops along the Marine Drive, the road that runs parallel to the beach. They specialise in selling Odia handloom sarees.

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Handloom shops along Beach Road

Sand Art

One cannot forget mentioning the speciality of Puri – sand art. The city has created several sand artists. Sudarshan Pattnaik is just the cream of this army of sand artists. For those who do not know Sudarshan Pattnaik, he is an international award-winning sand artist from Puri who has represented India at various international sand art events and has won several accolades abroad. He is well known for creating sand arts to spread awareness and mark important days. He also runs a sand art academy to impart his knowledge to young kids. This is what he made today, on World Tiger Day:

I did not encounter any of his sand arts during my stay; however, I did see some sand sculptures by another less-known artist, Manas Kumar Sahoo. He also owns a small museum on the Puri-Konark Road. Upon checking his LinkedIn profile, I realised that he also has several accomplishments in India and abroad [12]. Here’s one of his arts on World No Tobacco Day:

Puri is not just a standalone tourist destination. The widely eminent Konark Temple and Chilika Lake are also located close-by. They are described in the forthcoming articles.

References:

      1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jagannath_Temple,_Puri
      2. https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-biggest-secret-of-Jagannath-temple
      3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indradyumna
      4. https://ourdharma.wordpress.com/2009/02/27/the-unfinished-jagannath-idol-at-puri/
      5. https://www.quora.com/Who-is-lord-Jagannath-and-what-is-his-connection-with-lord-Krishna
      6. https://www.quora.com/Why-are-only-Hindus-allowed-in-the-Jagannath-Temple-in-Puri
      7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ratha-Yatra
      8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juggernaut
      9. https://www.linkedin.com/in/manas-kumar-sahoo-74258146/
      10. https://twitter.com/ManasSah00

BHUBANESHWAR: IT’S NOT THAT BAD EITHER

BHUBANESHWAR: IT’S NOT THAT BAD EITHER
We left Vizag for Bhubaneshwar, the capital of Odisha. The journey between these cities would certainly create a sudden change of perception towards the surroundings in anybody’s mind. Vizag, as I had described, is a clean, well-maintained city. On the other hand, the moment I got out of Bhubaneshwar railway station, what I saw was a muddy street with potholes with no street lights, the area was also quite lonely, dotted only by passengers departing the railway station, no shops or commercial establishments close by – despite it being just besides the station.
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Bhubaneshwar station board: Note that it is spelt as ‘Bhubaneshwar’ in English but ‘Bhuvaneshwar’ in Hindi and western languages

Our hotel was located just a few metres from the railway station, adjacent to the railway tracks, but the street was deserted, the only lights were casted from the billboards of the hotels on the way. Same was the case when we walked from the hotel towards the main road. It looked like a remote village with a few buildings, and shops which nobody visited. To add to our perception, the main road had a broken footpath, with water spilled from an unknown source but thankfully there were restaurants and outlets of famous brands such as Bata and Raymond.

A Modern but Historic City

Cuttack was the former capital of the then Orissa state, but it suffered from frequent flooding and space constraints. Hence, the foundation for a new capital city was laid on 13th April 1948 by Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister. The name ‘Bhubaneshwar’ was chosen as it is a name of Lord Shiva, the prime deity of the Lingaraja Temple, one of the main temples in the city. Although the modern city was built only after independence, the area around Bhubaneshwar has been inhabited since centuries.

The area is dotted by many temples to its south-east and Udaygiri and Khandagiri Jain caves to its west. Dhauli, the site of the Kalinga war is also located a few kilometres to the south of Bhubaneshwar. The following sections cover them elaborately.

The Historic Bhubaneshwar

The south-eastern side of the city is dotted by ancient temples, still structurally alive, with no signs of destruction. Some of them are still functional, while some are maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India and the area around them is being used as a joggers’ park.

The Lingaraja Temple is one of the most prominent and important. It covers a huge area, with one central temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and several peripheral temples dedicated to various Gods and Goddesses. Carrying mobile phones and other electronic devices inside is prohibited although the temple priests can be found entertaining themselves through a movie. The temple priests also try to lure people by chanting supposedly random mantras and asking for ‘dakshina’. It is advisable to not fall prey to their machinations.

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The Lingaraja Temple, as seen from the Bindu Sagar Lake

The preceding railway station on approaching Bhubaneshwar from Vizag is also named after the Lingaraj Temple.

The Kedar Gauri Temple, also dedicated to Lord Shiva, is located a few metres apart, in the same area. It is also a fully functional temple; however, the historic domes made of stone are painted in assorted colours to give it a fake vivid look.

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Kedar Gauri Temple
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A sheep outside the Kedar Gauri Temple

Other temples in this area are described below, all of them are semi-functional (functional with little visitor count) or non-functional.

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Mukteshwara Temple (one of the most picturesque temples)
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Mukteshwara Temple with the Odia flag
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Brahmeshwar Temple: Notice the Nandi in the front
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A goddess decorated at Brahmeshwar Temple
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Bhaskeshwar Temple
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A more closer look at the architecture
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Raja Rani Temple: This is the only temple which charges an entry fee

The Caves

The Udayagiri and Khandagiri caves are located to the west of the city. While both are located adjacent to each other, an entry fee is charged only for the Udayagiri caves. It is believed that most of these caves were carved out as residential blocks for Jain monks during the reign of King Kharavela, a king of the Mahameghavahana dynasty, in the second century BCE and his successors. The activities in these caves continued until 10th and 11th centuries CE. There are 18 caves at Udayagiri, while 15 at Khandagiri. Some of the famous caves at Udayagiri are Bagha Gumpha (tiger cave) and Rani Gumpha (Queen’s cave)

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Udayagiri caves
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A dog resting inside a cave to beat the heat
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The skyline of the city as seen from the caves
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Another angle for skyline
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The Bagha Gumpha (tiger cave): Someone spoiled it by making some grafitti
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Ganesha Gumpha
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An excavated Jain shrine
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Religious sculptures at Khandagiri caves
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Khandagiri caves
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The Digambar Jain Temple at Khandagiri
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A bird at Khandagiri

Both Udayagiri and Khandagiri, although preserved ASI sites, are infamously nested with transgenders begging and the security probably is too indulgent to allow them carry out their activities. This is the reason I did not cover each of the caves in these sites.

Nandankanan Zoological Park

The Nandankanan zoo is in the north-western corner of the city, just about 10km from Cuttack. Although it is proudly exalted as the largest zoo in India (and probably in Asia), the claim is disputed by the Arignar Anna Zoological Park in Chennai. Nevertheless, Nandankanan is also too big, rewinding my memories to 2016, when I visited the Chamarajendra Zoological Park in Mysuru [3]. The zoo is a plastic-free zone, much like the Mysuru zoo. I specially learnt manual photography in a DSLR for shooting these animals without capturing their enclosures. I just couldn’t resist myself from posting these photos :p

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The water bird aviary

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Looks like he’s not happy with me taking his photo
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All mothers care for their children
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It seems they are seriously watching something and biting their nails

The Modern Bhubaneshwar

The museums and science centres in the city were built after formally designating it as the capital of Odisha. Although most people are not interested in visiting them, I would give a peculiarity or two for those in the city. One such museum is the Regional Museum of Natural History. It was inaugurated in 2004 and imparts a modern look. A worth mentioning exhibit in the museum is the egg of the elephant bird. The elephant birds lived in Madagascar and were extinct around 1000-1200 CE, much like the Dodo of Mauritius.

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The Regional Museum of Natural History
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Egg of the elephant bird

The Pathani Samanta Planetaurium is located just adjacent to this museum. It was named after famous Odia astronomer Mahamahopadhyaya Chandrasekhar Singh Harichandan Mohapatra Samanta popularly known as Pathani Samanta. He was known as the naked eye astronomer and his book Siddhanta Darpana finds a special mention in the American and European press of 1899. [6]

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Pathani Samanta Planetaurium

The BDA City Centre, also known as NICCO Park is an amusement park developed by Bhubaneshwar Development Authority, an attempted replica of the mega amusement parks in the metropolises. BDA, as you might have guessed, stands for Bhubaneshwar Development Authority, analogous to VUDA (Vizag), MMRDA (Mumbai) and BDA (Bengaluru). On a lighter note, the city’s corporation is called the BMC (Bhubaneshwar Municipal Corporation), sharing its acronym with Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation.

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BDA City Centre (Nicco Park)

The core part of Bhubaneshwar is meticulously planned, and the roads are wide and clean. The city was planned with an eye on the future with enough recreational facilities and transport infrastructure being developed then, when Odisha was terribly poor. My own opinion of the city changed after traversing through its modern infrastructure. At a time when India’s huge metropolises like Mumbai are facing acute space constraints, Bhubaneshwar still seems to have a lot of open space.

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A road in the modern city: Trees are planted on every section of the divider

Cuttack

Cuttack was the former capital of Odisha and the railway distance between the two cities is 28 km. It is connected to Bhubaneshwar by two major roads and the city is situated on a peninsula, surrounded by river Mahanadi on three sides. Though I did not visit Cuttack, the famous places for tourism are the Barabati Fort, the temple of Cuttack Chandi Devi (from whom the city gets its name) and the birthplace of Netaji Subash Chandra Bose, which has now been converted into a museum.

The birth place museum of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Cuttack

Despite Odisha being a poor state (yes, it’s per capita-nominal income was just INR 75223 as per 2016-17 data), the infrastructure of Bhubaneshwar – the capital and Puri – the major tourist destination is well tailored to meet travellers’ and residents’ needs. A significant section of this poverty resides in the western tribal areas, where essential services like ambulances are also in a shortfall. The Bhubaneshwar airport is also exceptionally better than Kolkata’s Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose “International” Airport, for which I had an unfortunate privilege of visiting in March while visiting Bhutan [8]. I feel that the capacity of the airport is somewhat higher than required and a new terminal is also under construction for serving international flights. Bhubaneshwar, however, does not have its own cricket stadium and all cricket matches in Odisha are hosted at the Barabati Stadium in Cuttack. All players need to travel 30 or more kilometres to commute between their hotel and the ground, which surprisingly also violates a BCCI rule; yet the Odisha Cricket Association is bent on not constructing a second stadium in Bhubaneshwar.

To summarise, Bhubaneshwar wasn’t that bad either!

References:

    1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Udayagiri_and_Khandagiri_Caves
    2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_zoos_in_India
    3. https://vishalkhopkar.wordpress.com/2016/06/01/the-old-capital-with-a-new-touch/
    4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regional_Museum_of_Natural_History,_Bhubaneswar
    5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elephant_bird
    6. http://bhubaneswar.me/tours-shows/pathani-samanta-planetarium
    7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Indian_states_and_union_territories_by_GDP_per_capita
    8. https://vishalkhopkar.wordpress.com/2018/03/30/journey-to-the-kingdom/
    9. https://www.skyscanner.co.in/airports/bbi/bhubaneswar-airport.html
    10. http://odishatv.in/odisha/body-slider/will-bhubaneswar-ever-host-a-cricket-match-189046

VIZAG: THE JEWEL OF THE EAST COAST

VIZAG: THE JEWEL OF THE EAST COAST

Until recently, the general public’s perception of Vizag was just as a major harbour and a naval base. In my 21 years of life, I had never heard of anyone visiting Vizag as a tourist and hence, I was quite unaware of the features it offers.

These perceptions drastically changed. The first seed to visit Vizag came from a cricket match, wherein the Kailasagiri hill-top park and its ropeway was shown midway in its broadcast. That was the period post 2012, when I had taken on a spree to visit major cities in India. A thought struck my mind, “Vizag isn’t just a harbour city, let’s visit it some time.” Later, after encountering blogs and especially after knowing more about Vizag from Gaurav, my colleague at Samsung R&D, I made up my mind and listed it on the ‘Places to be visited list’, and I’m sure you would be equally tempted to visit it after completely reading this blog.

About Vizag

Visakhapatnam, Vizag and Waltair all refer to the same city. A legend says that a 4th century king built a temple dedicated to the Vaishakha nakshatra here which submerged under the sea and this place was thus called Visakhapatnam, where ‘patnam’ means ‘seaport’ in Telugu. This name was corrupted to ‘Vizagapatnam’ during the British colonial era and was shortened to Vizag as they were unable to pronounce the full name. The city was briefly under the control of the French after which the power was transferred to the British East India Company in the Battle of Vizagapatnam. Waltair is the name of a suburb derived during this colonial time.

A crucial point to be noted here is that although the name is pronounced as ‘Visha-kha-patta-nam’, the city is spelt as ‘Visa-kha-pat-nam’ in English and विशाखपट्टणम in Devanagari. Contrasting to popular misconception, it is not ‘Visha-kha-patnam’ or विशाखापट्टणम. (I myself got confused when I saw this anomaly but unfortunately, it exists this way!)

Vizag is managed by the Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation (GVMC) and Visakhapatnam Urban Development Authority (VUDA), which is an urban development body much like what MMRDA is for Mumbai and BDA is for Bengaluru.

GVMC
The headquarters of the Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation

The journey

We reached Vizag from Mumbai through the morning train LTT-Vizag express, leaving LTT at 6:55 and reaching Vizag next day at 11:15 sharp on time. The route goes through the urban landscape of Mumbai, the semi-rural landscape of Diva-Kalyan, the Western Ghats, the Deccan Plateau, majestic Hyderabad and beautiful coastal Andhra.

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The wind turbines in Northern Karnataka: Karnataka produces more renewable energy than Denmark and The Netherlands
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People taking a morning bath in river Godavari at Rajahmundry: There is a 4.1 km long bridge across river Godavari

We stayed at Hotel Blak & Wite near Ramakrishna beach, in an upscale area behind the all-famous Novotel. The beach and harbour are visible from this hotel. We booked the Andhra Pradesh Tourism’s Vizag City Tour bus for the sightseeing.

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The magnificent Hotel Novotel at night

Ramakrishna Beach

Ramakrishna Beach, also known as RK Beach lies in the heart of the city. This is one of the few beaches in the country where you see a grand harbour to your right, a thriving city and a beautiful Marine Drive behind, naval ships passing by in the front and aeroplanes flying right above you, in the sky.

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A ship seen from RK Beach

The beach is also comparatively much cleaner than ‘world-famous’ beaches of Mumbai like Girgaon, Dadar and Juhu, which have been destroyed by years of waste deposition and oil leaks.

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Simhachalam Temple

Simhachalam is a suburb in Vizag famous for the Sri Varahalakshmi Narasimha Temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu in the form of Varaha Narasimha. It dates to at least 1000 years ago, and the deity is greatly revered in Andhra and Odisha. The deity is covered with a paste of sandalwood (Chandan) and it is removed on the festival of Chandanotsava, celebrated on the day of Akshaya Tritiya.

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The entrance to the temple

Mobile phones and cameras are prohibited inside the temple and there are two kinds of darshans – a normal one free of cost and a quick darshan with an INR 20 entry fee. It took us around half an hour on a weekday morning for a free darshan.

Shilpa Ramam

Shilpa Ramam is a cultural art centre depicting arts and crafts by rural artisans of Andhra Pradesh. Some of these arts are made from old motor parts.

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Crafts made from old motor parts at Shilpa Ramam

The Dr. YSR ACA-VDCA International Cricket stadium is located just a few metres away from this art centre. It was previously the IPL home ground for the Deccan Chargers and more recently for Mumbai Indians and Rising Pune Supergiants in 2016 when matches were shifted out of Maharashtra due to water shortage.

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The Dr YSR ACAVDCA Cricket Stadium: Sorry for the black corner; it’s because the pic has been taken from a bus

Thotlakonda Buddhist Complex

Thotlakonda and Bavilkonda are Buddhist complexes located just outside of Vizag discovered during an aerial survey by the Indian Navy in 1976. It was active during the period 300 BCE to 300 CE, after which Buddhism declined. It consists of tanks for storing water, chaitya-grihas (prayer halls), stupas and viharas (resting places) for Buddhist monks, much similar to Ajanta and Ellora caves in Maharashtra.

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Rushikonda Beach

Vizag is located along a continuous stretch of beaches extending to the north of the Buddhist complexes and Rushikonda is yet another popular beach to the north of the city. The Andhra Pradesh Tourism’s Haritha resort is located close by on an adjacent hill.

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Rushikonda Beach
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AP Tourism’s Haritha Resort

Kailasagiri

This is the most famous iconic park in Vizag located atop a hill. It is referred to as ‘Kailasagiri’ because it has been created as an abode of Lord Shiva and Goddess Paravati. Huge statues of these deities are located on this hill. In addition, there is a ropeway which takes you to and fro from the base to the hill and a toy train which comprises of both AC and non-AC coaches (yes, it’s a toy train) and takes you around the circumference of the hill. The train, however runs too slow.

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The Shiva-Parvathi statues at Kailasagiri
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View of the city from the ropeway

Visakha Museum

The 1971 Indo-Pak war made Pakistan bend on its feet leading to the creation of an independent Bangladesh. The submarine which travelled from Karachi in Pakistan to Vizag was PNS Ghazi which sunk here on 4th December 1971. This has also been shown in a recent Bollywood film ‘Raazi’. The remains of this submarine and captured Pakistani flags are displayed in the Visakha museum, and the 1971 War Memorial is also erected nearby. Parts of various naval ships and submarines are also kept on display in the museum’s backyard.

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In addition, the museum hosts portraits of the Maharajas of Vizianagaram, paintings, idols and photos showing the growth of the city. Photography is not permitted inside the museum.

Submarine Museum

INS Kursura was a submarine used by the Indian Navy purchased from USSR in 1969 which was decommissioned in 2001. Since then, it has been converted to a museum and is on a public display at RK Beach. Visitors aren’t allowed to click photographs inside the submarine but all parts of the vehicle, including the cockpit, washrooms, dining area, sleeping cabins, etc. are clearly shown with human-like models and plastic food items. One can actually find the model of a chef cooking idlis in the kitchen and the officers eating it in the dining area!

INS Kurusura Submarine Museum (Wikipedia)

TU 142 Museum

The TU 142 is a former aircraft designed by Tupolev used by the Indian Naval Air Arm for marine reconnaissance, i.e. to detect the positions of submarines beneath the ocean. It was manufactured in the USSR and was decommissioned in 2017. After its faithful service, it was converted to a museum developed by VUDA. The foundation stone laying ceremony was held on 9th September 2017 and the museum was inaugurated by Shri Ram Nath Kovind, President of India ON 7th December 2017, which means that it was completed in a span of just 2 months. Since the museum is one of the latest attractions of Vizag, few outsiders seem to be aware about it. It is however, located just opposite to INS Kursura Museum on Beach Road. The museum has an entry fee of INR 70 per adult which includes an audio guide.

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The museum building
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The TU142 aircraft

Doll Museum

The Doll Museum is a representation of the life of Swami Vivekananda, Swami Ramakrishna and Sarada Devi. The life of the saints is shown through miniature dolls and there are hundreds of such small-scale exhibits. It is located on the first floor of the Ramakrishna Mission office at Beach Road and is open for all.

Doll Museum

Beach Road

Roads in Vizag are in general wide and pleasant to drive on. Some roads have 4 lanes on each side in addition to service lanes. Although they seem like expressways, they are normal city roads. The Beach Road is the one which runs parallel to RK beach, and many important attractions such as the museums, Rushikonda beach, Indira Gandhi Zoological Park, Rama Naidu Studios, Thotlakonda, etc. are located on this same road. It extends from the harbour in the south to Bheemili in the north covering a distance of 32 kms. Furthermore, the road has solar street lights at a few places and is adorned with statues of Telugu kings and poets, popular restaurants and joints such as Café Coffee Day, children’s parks, benches for resting, etc. The footpaths are also wide enough to make it a well-planned road all-in-all. It is a beautiful place to spend nights as well.

Solar lights at Beach Road
The solar street lights at Beach Road
Dinosaurs at Beach Road
Dinosaurs at Beach Road

On 22nd May 2018, there was a huge rally of TDP with the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh N. Chandrababu Naidu, for which a fleet of almost a thousand buses carrying people from various parts of Andhra was seen at Beach Road.

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The fleet of buses for the TDP meeting: there were at least a 1000 buses jamming a lane of the road

Other features

Apart from the places mentioned above, one can visit Araku Valley, to view the Borra caves, coffee plantations, etc. It is located at a distance of about 110 km from Vizag and AP Tourism provides pickup and drop bus services. Other places in the city not covered in my trip were Indira Gandhi Zoological Park, Kambalakonda Eco Park, Hawa Mahal, Dolphin’s Nose Lighthouse and Fishing Harbour.

A usual problem that many visitors may face in Vizag is the language barrier. The primary language is Telugu and not everyone understands Hindi and English. Some important sign boards are only in Telugu, as those shown below:

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Signboards and advertisements at the bus stand
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Grapes for sale outside the bus stand

The Andhra Pradesh Government is indeed taking a lot of steps to boost tourism in the city, and the Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu is anyways a visionary person. I will not take sides on the issue of whether Andhra Pradesh should get a special status or not, but Vizag was one of the most beautiful cities I ever visited. It is hard to find a pothole on Vizag’s roads. They are also well-maintained, with due credits to GVMC and VUDA.

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Vizag Smart City

Vizag was nominated as one of the cities for the government’s flagship Smart City Project in 2015, in the first list itself. Under this initiative, a park for children of ‘all abilities’ is being built on Beach Road. The details for this project can be found here: !ref

Apart from this, Vizag City Police has their own YouTube channel where CCTV footages of accidents occurring in the city are posted. One such accident video is shown below:

Although the channel has uploaded only three videos as of now, I think it is a good start for any authority to connect with the people in this manner and make them aware of the accidents happening.

The city is also cheaper. Dining at a high-quality restaurant will not burn a hole in your pocket. Digital payments viz. Paytm are widely accepted even in the smallest of shops at Vizag.

From Vizag, I travelled to Bhubaneshwar, the capital of Odisha, which is described in the next-to-next post, after briefly introducing the distinguished state of Odisha.

References:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visakhapatnam
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visakhapatnam_Urban_Development_Authority
  3. https://www.oyorooms.com/15419-premium-oyo-9210-hotel-blak-wite-visakhapatnam
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Varaha_Lakshmi_Narasimha_temple,_Simhachalam#Chandanotsava
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PNS_Ghazi
  6. http://www.aptdc.gov.in/vizag-tourpackages.html
  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tupolev_Tu-142
  8. http://smartcities.gov.in/upload/presentation/58b41075daf40All_Abilities_Children_Park_Concept_FEB_22.pdf
  9. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smart_Cities_Mission#1st_Round_winners_%E2%80%93_Selection_of_20_Smart_Cities
  10. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCo-ZOquDsa3_cBWZkd7Ay3A
  11. https://www.news18.com/news/buzz/karnataka-now-produces-more-renewable-energy-than-netherlands-and-denmark-1826473.html