Jaipur City Palace

Jaipur City Palace is a nice visit, but I personally wouldn’t classify it as a “must-see.” The architecture is interesting, but it has more of a feel as a money-making experience rather than a historical tourist attraction, also –  most rooms said no photography allowed.

The costume museum is interesting and worth a look. The Maharajah’s meeting room is also impressive. On the other hand, the paintings in the meeting room are quite impressive and (apparently) copyrighted – so you won’t see it in other places.

There are some shops outside of the palace where you can get some decent prices. Quality seemed to be good and the shop-keepers are a pleasant bunch.

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The Silver Urn at the Diwan I-Khas

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Chandra Mahal

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Inside the Pitam Niwas, is the ornate Peacock Gate

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Chandra Mahal – atop is the flag of the Royal Family of Jaipur.

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Diwan I-Khas
Chandra Mahal

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Exploring Karnataka: Halebid and Belur in a Day

While waiting for our Bangalore night bus from Hassan, here we went back to the bus station and caught one of the frequent buses to Halebid, which run a direct non stop service to and from, an incredibly bumpy ride, which took about an hour and a half. Bumpy because not only was the single track paved road itself full of pot holes but it meant whenever overtaking or negotiating past an oncoming vehicle each had one wheel on the road and another on the stony unmade hard shoulder.

Halebid’s Hoysaleswara Temple has a simply fantastic temple the exterior covered in delicate carving of gods, men, women, freezes right around with elephants or lions head to tail all different or scenes from the Ramayana. The secret is that the temple was constructed around 1100AD using soapstone blocks which could be fashioned in the most intricate fashion – the word filigree usually associated with fine silver work is the best I can find, but with luck the photos will say a lot more than I could conceivably describe. We spent three hours there just breathing in the beauty of the temples and the huge grassed and stone paved courtyard.

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Ceiling of the Hoysaleswara Temple

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Hoysaleswara Temple Complex

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Sculptures/Piligrim/Priest

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The base of the temple walls comprise of moldings with friezes that comprise of (from bottom to top) elephants, lions, scrolls, horses, scrolls, puranic scenes, mythical beasts (makara) and swans

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40 kms from Halebid, Belur has temples that are very similar to those of Halebid’s Hoysaleswara, and although the interiors are said to be of more  importance than the exterior, they were so dark as to be scarcely visible. The interiors even more than Halebid featured huge pillars turned on a lathe of a look more often associated with wood, this technique being feasible because of the integrity and softness of the sandstone of which these temples are built.

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The 12th century Chennakesava Temple at Belur is the symbol of Hoysalas over the Cholas in the great battle of Talakadu.

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The exterior is covered with a variety of intricately-carved sculptures and friezes.
Below: The boyfriend sporting his bindi.

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In the bus on our way back to Hassan.

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These temples of Belur and Halebid in Hassan district are being proposed as UNESCO world heritage site. Halebid is open daily from 10 AM to 5 PM Closed on Fridays.

Best time to visit: October to February.

Distance from Halebid:
Hassan: 27 Kms
Bangalore: 216 Kms
Belur: 16 Kms
Mysore: 149 Kms

Distance from Belur:
Hassan: 38 Kms
Bangalore: 223 Kms
Halebid: 16 Kms

How to reach Belur and Halebid:
Air: Hassan does not have an airport. The nearest airport is Bangalore.
Rail: Hassan is connected to Bangalore, Mysore, and Mangalore by regular trains. The railway station is around 2 km east of town.
Road: One can reach Belur and Halebid via Hassan. Hassan is linked with Bangalore, Mangalore, Chikmagalur and Mysore by road.

There are plenty of buses ply to Hassan from Bangalore, Mangalore and Mysore. Frequent bus facility is provided by Karnataka Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) is a very convenient one.

Road map to reach Belur:
From Bangalore to Belur via Nelamangala – Kunigal – Channarayapattana – Hassan – Belur.
Road map to reach Halebid:
From Bangalore to Belur via Nelamangala – Kunigal – Channarayapattana – Hassan – Halebid.

Info from: http://www.karnatakaholidays.com

Thar Desert Camel Safari Experience

A 30 minute drive out of Jaisalmer into the Thar desert, Valerio, I and the rest of our group were dropped off roadside to meet our guides and camels for the next 3 days.  I was introduced to Mr. Maggoo and after a few minutes adding my bags to the weighty seat in front of his hump and water containers on his hind, I was sat on his shoulders and held on tight as 1st front legs nearly ejected me backwards and then hind legs lunged me forward before we were stable and standing.  With our camel man, Sajjan joined with Mr. Sunday, Valerio’s camel attached to the back of my camel, we set off in convoy away from the road and in to the desert.

The ride went smoother than an elephant as we progressed through scrubby desert with many cactus, dry grasses and occasional trees (with branches drooping to a straight line within reach of hungry camels) and carcasses of cows and crows covering the horizon.

This was our first camel ride ever and it was kinda fun. The others in our group also liked it but they complained about the pain in their thighs afterwards. On our way to the sleeping grounds we’ve seen only a couple of sand dunes but we stopped in a near by village for some insight into desert village life and had some chai there.

The sun has started to set, we all sat down in front of a big bonfire where we camped, and started to get to know everyone briefly in the group. We had so much fun listening to each other stories about travels, worst guesthouses, train experiences – while our camel guides were preparing our veggie curry and chapati for dinner.We later dozed off on our mattresses and that was how I spent my first night in the desert.

It was a relaxing night and the sound that camel bells are making is so lovely I could listen to it each night before I go to sleep.

The early morning mist soon burnt off by the ever increasing heat of the desert.  Camel drivers were making some chapati and preparing chai while Valerio and I went to take some sunrise shots but weren’t very successful in our attempt because the sun was already too high. After our breakfast, we got on our camels again and went back to the desert, this time, it will only be the two of us, with our camels and our personal guide, Sajjan. We continued our tranquil trip and found a small group of trees for a lunch stop.

Sajjan quickly unpacked the camels and left them to wander off to chomp on the grass and trees whilst he prepared lunch.  Relaxed for 2 hours in the middle of nowhere and watched desert birds flutter around trying to pinch a few scraps with our camels watching from afar. This is life.

The tranquility of the trek just about outweighing the pain. Very happy when we made it to another group of larger dry unvegetated sand dunes.  The first ten seconds after dismounting agony as cramp slowly subsided.

I can feel the effects of a full day on a camel and rapidly changing my mind that a camel is more comfy than an elephant! First ten minutes very painful until I settled in to a rhythm, even putting my legs hanging on one side – like a Victorian lady.  As I acclimatized to riding the camel, our guide stepped up the pace as we progressed to a light trot.  Surprisingly, less painful than walking. Today’s terrain is a little unpredictable and needed more balancing as we climbed up dunes and back down the other side.  Thankfully, the camels are obedient in following the guide’s various calls and slowed down or sped up as required by the terrain.  With the temperature well into the 30 degrees, the breeze is very welcome as we pushed on through cactus filled dune valleys.

After another beautiful starry night, I made the effort to get up in time for the sunrise. I climbed back up to the top of the big dune where Valerio was already watching the top of the sun hit the horizon. Quite a cool view with a few turbines silhouetted in the huge sun.

After breakfast, we were back on the camels for the last stint.

We stopped at one more village for an appreciation of local life.  I was a little disappointed by its authenticity with very well built stone houses with a couple of token wooden huts, but Sajjan left us to wander around without giving us any information about the place. Enjoying some last moments in the desert, I went inside a local’s hut (with permission, of course) and played with the kids, while Valerio was helping Sajjan to grab some bales of straw to load on Mr. Maggoo’s back.

We moved on and made it back to the road.

A great trip with the camel riding – only part of the novelty and enjoyment, with the tranquility of trekking through a deserted desert, campfires and fantastic food and company, sleeping under the stars, and lovely sunsets and sunrises all making it a memorable experience. Two and a half days just about right.

We booked our Camel Safari Tour from HERE

Photography and text by Author unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved.

 

Mindblowing Caves of Ellora

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Sculptures of Buddhas in a Buddhist cave at Ellora.

WARNING: This is a long post. 😉

As a first-time visitor in Ellora, I was immediately impressed by the fact that all temples, pillars, balconies and sculptures have all been carved out of ONE piece of rock.

The masterpiece at Ellora is the Kailasa Temple. Dedicated to Shiva, it is the world’s largest monolithic sculpture, hewn from rock by over 7000 laborers over a 150-year period. Over 200.000 tons of rock has been removed to create the temple which covers an area twice the area of the Parthenon in Athens and is also 1½ times as high.

A visit to the Ellora Caves is a breathtaking experience. This is truly a World Heritage Site in the same class as the Pyramids, Petra or Taj Mahal and an absolute must place to stop at when you plan your India travel route.

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Behind us is the largest monolith rock cut excavation in the world – the spectacular Kailasa Cave.

Caves 1 – 12 comprise the Buddhist caves and monasteries and date back to the Chalukya dynasty (between the 7th and 8th centuries AD).

Caves 13 – 29 comprise the Hindu caves, carved between the the 7th and 9th centuries AD, and represent the peak of Ellora’s artistic development.

Caves 30 – 34 comprise Jain Caves and were carved in the late 9th century and represent the final stages of evolution of the Ellora Caves complex.

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Cave 33 (Jagannath Sabha)
Similar in plan to the Indra Sabha (Cave 32), the Jagannath Sabha along with Cave 34, has some very well preserved sculptures.

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Ellora features three different religions that thrived at the same site. Buddhism, Hinduism, & Jainism co-existed during the development of the Ellora Caves suggesting the religious harmony that existed in India at that time.

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This is Cave 2. The cave has a verandah, and houses images of Panchika, the God of Wealth and Hariti, the Goddess of Prosperity. Each of the walls in the hall has sculptures of Buddha flanked by celestial figures and Bodhisattvas. A similar but larger figure of the Buddha can be seen in the sanctuary.

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Caves 30 – 34 comprise Jain Caves and were carved in the late 9th century and represent the final stages of evolution of the Ellora Caves complex.

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Cave 10: This cave marks the peak of Chaitya dynasty architecture in India. The Vishvakarma, or “Carpenter’s Cave”, gets its named from the ribs carved on to the roof which give the effect of being wooden support beams. There is a large figure of the Buddha, about 15 foot tall, showing him in a teaching position. The hall has porticos on three sides which lets plenty of light into the cave and a flight of steps in the verandah leads to the upper gallery.

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Cave 21 (Ramesvara)
The Ramesvara Cave has beautiful figurines of the river goddesses Ganga and Yamuna at its entrance.
Cave 22 (Nilkantha)
The Nilkantha Cave has several sculptures.

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Inside the Kailash Temple (Rock-cut temple)

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Cave 5 (Mahrvada)
This Cave, called “Maharvada” and was used as a monastery (“vihara”) and consists of a spacious hall measuring 117 feet by 59 feet and divided into three columned aisles. The columns are decorated and benches have been carved out of the floor. The benches were sused by disciples while being taught the philosophies of Budhha. The monastery has a shrine for Buddha at the rear end and twenty cells for the monks.

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Cave 6
The cave has columned rectangular hall. The walls and columns of the hall are both well decorated with with figures of the Boddhisattva and the goddesses Tara and Mahamayuri.

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Cave 9
The highlight of this cave as wall carving depicting the Goddess Tara in the act of rescuing devotees from the snake, an elephant, a fire and a shipwreck. The cave also has an open terrace with a balcony and a shrine.

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Cave 12 (Teen Tal)
As implied by the name, Teen Tal is a three storeyed complex. This is the largest monastic complex at Ellora and entered through a courtyard. It contains a very large seated Budhha on the 3rd floor

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Cave 12

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Cave 10

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Citizens of India and visitors of SAARC (Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Maldives and Afghanistan) and BIMSTEC Countries (Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Myanmar) – Rs. 10 per head.
Others: US $ 5 or Indian Rs. 250/- per head
(children up to 15 years free)

Best season / time to visit Ellora Caves:

While it is possible to visit Ajanta Caves throughout the year it does become a bit challenging to walk and explore all the caves during the peak summer heat and during the monsoon rains.

One ideally should plan on 3-5 hours as the required amount of time to fully experience the Ajanta Caves – and there is a significant amount of walking required to cover the caves.

As such, the best time to visit Ajanta Caves is between October and March after the peak monsoon rains and before the onset of Summer.

Info from: http://www.rang7.com/ellora-caves