Monday, 23 April 2012

Parrot Island in Andman: Delight for Bird Lovers

It always a pleasure to go to mom’s house and for me its double pleasure. First, I will be meeting my parents and secondly, I will get the chance to see more exotic places in Andaman & Nicobar Islands. This time, I decided to explore Baratang Island. I have heard a lot of stories about Parrot Island which is a part of Baratang Island. The Parrot Island is a natural habitat for parrots in this region. Thousands of parrots returning home before every sunset is a unique and must see view for all nature lovers. I thought of visiting this unique Parrot Island.
Thousands of parrots returning to Parrot Island before every sunset

We started off early morning for Baratang Island. Baratang Island is located at about 100 Km off the Capital city of Port Blair on the NH 223 (known as Andaman Trunk Road) towards Diglipur. We went through our car and than from a ship.

Baratang Jetty
This island has dense Tropical Forests of all types ranging from tidal swamp forest to Evergreen to littoral forests laced with sandy beaches along its coast at Baludera, Roglachang etc. But my eyes were searching for parrot Island.
The guide told us that we will go to parrot island through a small boat at around 3:30 pm, so that we can see the thousands of parakeets (mixed group) roost in this island every night. We spent our time visiting lime cave and mud volcano in Baratang Island.

Mangroves Trees

AwesomeView while going towards Parrot Island

Our Boat moving quickly towards Parrot Island

At 3:30 pm, we reached at Jetty and took a quick boat ride to Parrot Island. The ride was for 30 minutes but it was an awesome experience to sit in a tiny boat and ride in such a harsh sea. While we were enjoying the ride, our guide showed us a tiny Island and said “that’s Parrot Island!!!”.

Parrot Island View from distance

As we approached nearer, we saw a uniquely different group of Mangrove trees that looks more like an evenly cut Mangrove garden. On this lovely, dense island, each evening thousands of parrots flock together and roost here. They leave this island next morning. What is striking is that the mangroves on this island are trimmed from time to time by the parrots themselves using their beaks in a near-perfect manner.

Parrot Island
Our boat was stopped at around 500 mts from Parrot Island. Parrot Island turned out to be a very small piece of mangrove right in the middle of nowhere! My mind was working overtime. I could see that this particular patch of mangrove had been neatly pruned by the birds and looked close to a just plucked, tea garden!  Why just this patch? Only questions no answers!
Why, how, where, what? All these questions were coming to my mind but my guide can just answer one question - WHEN.

We stopped at 500 mt from Parrot Island
They know that as the sun sets, a group of about five parrots flies over Parrot Island and leaves. Then comes a similar group which the locals say comes for an initial inspection. And then within ten minutes we see birds coming over from all the directions and settle down in the forest. It was a mesmerizing experience. The landing of parrots can be viewed from boats and it's an incredible experience to watch such a huge number of parrots landing here.

Sunset at Parrot Island

Differnt shades of sea and sky while waiting for Parrots

Finally sun was setting down near Parrot Island
The quite sea is still silent but the silent island is now a roosting ground for many parakeets. The birds that come to Parrot Island are called parakeets as they are varied groups.

Parrots are landing in groups to this unique Island
Sitting in boat for about 45 mins and watching the birds come and roost and fly inside outside the island was an amazing feeling. I cannot leave from there without wondering 'why only Parrot Island?'

How to Reach: Reach Baratang from Port Blair by STS bus or a taxi or by boat. From Baratand Jetty, take a Dunghi boat ride. There are regular ferries from Baratang Jetty to Parrot Island. It is better to visit in the evenings if you want to see parrots.

Where to Stay: Forest and Government guest houses are there near to Jetty.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Chilkur Balaji: God with VISA Power

India is the incredible land of amazing cultural integration. Here people are fast progressing but still rooted to its faith in god.  While people in different parts of the world like mountaineering and rock climbing just to conquer a hill, in India people of all age set such targets in the name of God and faith. People of all age continue walking and climbing almost all round the year, be it the 22kms rocky roads of Vaishno Devi Mata Temple ,  the snow covered Amarnath Temple requiring intensive rock climbing or waiting in queue for several hours just to get a few second glimpse of Tirupathi balaji.
Recently, I heard one such amazing story of faith about Chilkur Balaji temple. Chilkur Balaji is also  known as VISA God. Surprised?? Even, I was surprised when I heard from my friend that Chilkur Balaj is said to be very powerful in helping people get VISAs, with specialization in US VISAs. Faith can do wonders for sure.

Chilkur BalaJi

Chilkur Balaji Temple
This unique temple is located on the outskirts of Hyderabad, on the banks of Osman Sagar lake. Balaji temple at Chilkur village on the outskirts of Hyderabad has become famous as the “visa temple” and is attracting youngsters with an urge to fly to greener pastures abroad. The temple in chilukur is definitely an epicenter of lot of spiritual energy.
According to the temple history , almost all IT professionals visiting the temple had got an onsite opportunity within a year of visting the temple .The faith here is that if a person makes 11 rounds of the entire temple and prays with some wish in mind then that wish comes true . After the 11 rounds , he / she is fit to worship God and incase if the wish comes true , one should make 108 rounds of the entire temple.
At first, 108 rounds sounded absolutely crazy to me. The funny and weird thing is that such a faith is just passed on by word of mouth . Not even a single scripture says that this is the real story and still one can find people making 108 rounds in huge groups like a massive marathon. Who doesn’t have dreams and unfulfilled desires ? On an average, 8000-10,000 students visit the temple in the hope of securing the elusive but highly sought-after US visa. The temple draws 100,000 visitors a week, many of whom come to pray to Lord Balaji for visas to travel or move to the U.S. and other Western countries. When all logic fails, most people turn to the god to seek divine intervention. The whole process of granting American visas defies any logic.

Devotees Making Round of the Temples

Visa God popularity also amused Wall Street Journal. Wall Street Journal has written a full article on this temple. You can read it here.

History: Once a old man wanted to visit Tirupathi.But due to his old age he was unable to travel and visit. One night lord venkateshwara swamy came into his dream and asked him to dig at a particular place at chilkur.The man got the place dug when all of a sudden they heard a cry when the digging rod stuck a stone like structure. The removed it to find that it was an idol of Lord Venkateshwara swamy with his forehead bleeding. Then the temple of Balaji was constructed at this place.

People in Queue

People from all set of corners of society make rounds in hope of getting their wishes fulfilled. There were physicaly challenged people walking on one stick, Ladies with tiny toddlers walking around the temple, medically unfit people who want to get cured by these rounds . Somewhere Faith and Belief can drive a person to do the impossible.

This is one of the very few temples in India which does not accept monetary donations in a Hundi and therefore does not fall under the purview of endowments department of Government. Chilkut balaji temple circulates a monthly magazine “Vak” which means Speech (Of GOD), nominally priced at Rs 5.00 only.

Vak Magazine published by Temple

I feel very proud that our nation has such a rich heritage where good beliefs and faiths are passed on from generation to another with or without scriptures . Even if the rounds did no fulfilment of dreams , atleast it kindled into many a feeling that they can do what they want to do .

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Kodinhi: Mysterious Village of Twins People

Hardly anyone would have heard the name of village called Kodinhi but this small village is famous world over for a most remarkable feat.  It’s not anything the residents have done intentionally; in fact they claim to be just as bemused as anyone else. So, what brings the world’s attention to this sleepy, lush green village which is 25 kilometers off Malappuram?

350 Pairs of Twins in Kodinhi
TWINS:  There are an unusually high number of twins born here. Kodhini, a town in Kerala, India, with a population of only 2000 villagers has around 350 twins. In the year 2008 alone, 15 pairs were born. This is a strange phenomenon in this town and a story goes that this trend started some 60-70 years ago. Globally, twins comprise just 6 of every 1,000 live births, while in Kodinhi they comprise 42 of 1,000 live births. This is a 700% increase.  India has one of the lowest twinning rates in the world, but Kodinhi is close to the top of the global twinning league.
What this means, is that you’re certain to see twins in almost every family in the village. All you have to do is walk around and they are everywhere: young, old and middle-aged, identical and non-identical twins: at schools, the marketplace, shops and offices.

Twins Girls

One more Pair of Twins

Many funny stories are doing rounds in the schools about the teachers finding it difficult to identify the twins. The local people too face similar piquant situation. The identity crisis is not confined to schools alone. There are also jokes that the newly-wed couples of Kodinhi often mistake their partners for the other twins of the pairs in the beginning of their conjugal life!

The mammoth birth rate of twins in the village still remains as a mystery coupled with curiosity for everyone.

                           Nobody knows why or how this phenomenon originated!!!

Baffled doctors are trying to unravel the mystery of Kodinhi who is boasting more than 220 sets of twins born to just 2,000 families. Experts who have visited the remote tropical village of Kodinhi, in Kerala, have been left scratching their heads over the phenomenon that has seen almost six times as many twins born than the global average. Local doctor and twin enthusiast Dr Krishnan Sribiju has been studying the medical marvel of Kodinhi for the past two years. Although 220 sets of twins have been officially registered in the village Dr Sribiju believes the real number to be far higher.

Twins Pairs

The genetic, biological,molecular, heriditery and climatic factors of the puzzling phenomina are the subject matter of the research on the multiple births at Kodinhi . Its interesting to note that the women married off from Kodinhi and also married to the youth in Kodinhi too have been giving birth to twins.
Investigate the twin phenomenon, drilling into the legacy of the community to search for the origin of twinning patterns and genetic predispositions that might offer a scientific breakthrough. While the strange and wonderful phenomina of extra-ordinary concentration of twin births in this village continues, an in-depth study on the various factors to find out its causes has become highly essential.

Even as the researchers go back from Kodinhi with more questions than answers, 58-year-old T.K. Abdul Razak, a Gulf-returnee, says he knows what the secret is. He believes that children are God’s gift. “I don’t subscribe to such studies”, he says.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Hajo : Ancient Pilgrimage Centre for Three Religions

Hajo is situated on the north bank of the Brahamputra 32 km from Guwahati. Hajo is an extremely important destination for Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists.  This is an ancient pilgrimage centre for three religions Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism. A number of religious places like temples and mosques dot the land of Hajo. Hajo is a remarkable example of communal harmony.

Hayagriva Mahadeva Temple Stone Staircase
Primary amongst them is the Hayagriva Mahadeva temple accessible via a long stone stairway. At the foot of the stairway is a large pond inhabited by one of Hajo's oldest residents - a giant turtle. This temple is important for both the Hindu and the Buddhist community. Within the temple is an image of Vishnu which quiet closely resembles the one at Jagannath Temple in Puri in Orissa. This temple is also regarded as a Buddhist shrine by Buddhist Lamas and Butiyas, who profess Buddhism. It is believed that, Lord Buddha attained Nirvana at this place.
The temple was destroyed by Kalapahar ( who is said to have destroyed hundreds of temple in India) and was rebuilt in 1543 by the Koch king Raghudev. A smaller temple was built nearby by Ahom king Pramatta Singh where Doul is celebrated on a grand scale every year.

Hayagriva Mahadeva temple

Pond of Hayagriva Mahadeva temple

Image of God Vishnu
Pond of the Temple
 Hajo Assam is also considered to be a Muslim pilgrimage centre. An Iraqi Prince, Pir Giasuddin Aulia established a mosque in Hajo in the 12th century, while visiting the place to spread the word of the Prophet. The mosque is often referred to as Poa Mecca – being 4th in the line of sanctity to the shrine at Mecca. The inscription of the wall of the Mosque tells us that it was constructed by Mir Lutufullah-i-Shiraji in 1657, during the reign of the Mughal emperor Shahjahan. A tomb in the front area of the mosque belongs to Gyasuddin Aulia who initially tried to spread Islam in the area. The mosque, it is also believed, is built on the foundation that in some quantity consists of earth brought from Mecca.

Poa Mecca Mosque

“Bhimar Charia”, just about one and a half kilometres from the Hayagriva Madav Temple.  According to Hindu mythology, the Pandavas had taken shelter in this region during their agyatvas or during the period in hiding. One can see the stone bowl used by Bhima (one of the Pandava brothers) during this agyatvas. Some say that this bowl was used by Bhima to eat. But a picture from another angle shows some steps on the inner side of the bowl. Maybe he might have used it to have a bath( Helmet to scale).

Stone bowl used by Bhima
 Hajo’s bell metal work is renowned. In Hajo of Kamrup district, Brass is an important cottage industry. Sarthebari in the same district is famous for bell metal crafts. The artisans of Assam make Kalah (water pot), Sarai, Kahi (dish), Bati (bowl), Lota and Tal (cymbals) out of these materials. The use of these metals were seen even in ancient times in utensils and statues. Today, they are also used for making fancy household items.

Brass Work in Hajo
Hajo is famous for Belt work
It is interesting to know that, since time immemorial, all the brass and bell metal utensils used in the Hayagriva Temple is made by the  Moria Community—a muslim community. No wonder Hajo is said to be the meeting place of the 3 religions—Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam.
Getting There By Air - The airport at Guwahati is the closest one from Hajo. Flights from here connect to destinations like New Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai, Jorhat, Dibrugarh, Tezpur, North Lakhimpur and Silchar. There is also a direct flight from Guwahati for Bangkok on every Monday and Thursday.

By Rail - Guwahati also happens to be nearest railhead to reach Hajo. Trains from here link to New Delhi and Kolkata directly and provide connectivity to destinations like Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram etc.

By Road - Buses also connect Guwahati to various destinations like Shillong, Silchar, Dibrugarh, Jorhat, Tezpur.


Thursday, 5 April 2012

Kuldhara: An Abandoned & Cursed Village of Rajasthan

Kuldhara story is one of the weirdest and inspiring stories I’ve ever heard. About 15 Km. west of Jaisalmer a city in western Rajasthan lies the ruins of a village which was called Kuldhara. The first sight of Kuldhara village, more a town actually, sends one imagination running to the time it may have been inhabited. A well planned settlement, the straight and wide streets ran in grids with houses opening into them. All design elements kept both aesthetics and utility in mind. A kind of a garage opened into the streets to park carts in. Temples, step wells and other structures were all signs of sound development over the centuries. 
Kuldhara Village

Kuldhara Entrance
 Kuldhara was the name of the largest village in this community consisting of 84 villages.  The village was established in 1291 by the Paliwal Brahmins and was a rather prosperous community due to their ability to grow bumper crops in the rather arid desert.  Paliwal bhramins were a very prosperous clan and were known for their business acumen and agricultural knowledge. But one night in 1825 all the people in Kuldhara and nearby 83 villages vanished in dark. Why did the villagers decide to leave their settlement after having lived there for more that 7 centuries.

Ruins of Kuldhara (Image courtesy)
Temple at Khuldhara (Image Courtesy)

The evil dewan or the minister in the ruling kingdom saw the young daughter of the village chief. He wanted to marry her and forced the village chief for marrying his daughter. He gave them a deadline for the marriage after which he would forcefully enter the village and take their daughter. All the chiefs of 84 villages met one night and for pride and honor decided to leave the villages in the dark of the night.

Umbrella @Khuldhara (Image Courtesy)

Cursed Village of Rajasthan (Image Courtesy)

Nobody knows where they went but it is believed that they settled near Jodhpur another city in western Rajasthan. Though nobody knows exactly how they did it, everybody in all of the 84 villages completely disappeared that very night.  Nobody saw them leave or figured out where they went – they simply vanished.  It is believed that they cast a curse over the village as they departed that would bring death to anyone who tried to inhabit the land.  It is likely that this is the reason why so much of the ancient village still remains (though mostly in rubble, but not stripped for materials). The crumbling brick structures span out towards all directions and a ghostly silence is all that lives on there. There are still some double storeyed houses that are intact and the awestruck tourist can well visualise how life went on in Kuldhara, ages ago.
Today the ruins of these villages can still be seen in western Rajasthan and are now tourist sites. The government today maintains the ruins as a heritage site. A walk through the village is akin to wandering onto the sets of a ghost movie. Only, this one is for real. Any one who is planning a visit to Jaisalmer should keep aside a few hours to catch this haunted setting in the eerie desert backdrop. Recently, Saif Ali Khan’s  “Agent Vinod” was shot  in this ancient village.

Getting there: Jaisalmer is well connected by air (Jodhpur, 285km is the nearest airport), rail  (regular trains from North and West) and by road. Kuldhara is 18kms towards the west and can be accessed by a cab from Jaisalmer.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Spiti Valley: Land between Tibet and India

In a country of 28 states, each with its signature culture, food, language, history & landscape, its difficult to select one  destination in India. A long weekend was coming and I was searching for an offbeat destinations and on net I found Spiti Valley in Himachal. The Spiti Valley is a desert mountain valley located high in the Himalaya mountains in the north-eastern part of the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. The name “Spiti” means “The Middle Land”, i.e. the land between Tibet and India.

Spiti Valley
I found destination quite intersting and zeroed down my search on Spiti Valley.  Spiti, means 'the middle country', it is the land of ragged and snow-capped mountains that reach out to the clear deep blue skies. It has been a forbidden land for most part of its history.

Ki monastery looks over one of the highest villages in the world
 The unique geography, climate and landscape of  Spiti, its unassuming little villages made me speechless.  The hospitality of its mountain people make it one of the most unique travel destinations in India. Spiti represent some of the remotest areas on Earth, probably the most remote region of India, and part of the Tibetan plateau. This valley is cut off from the world for over six months of the year (mid-October to July).Trekker’s paradise. Its known as “The Snow Desert”.

Though Spiti is a cold desert terrain it is home to several perennial rivers - Spiti, Pin, Chandra - whose gurgling sounds will soothe you in the night and whose ferocity will awe you. Ah, and not to mention the placid, azure blue lakes like Chandra Taal, Nako, Dhankar. I struck by some of the most beautiful canyons and the most unusual clay and rock formations along the river bed and in the mountains. The continuity of the landscape is only broken by numerous waterfalls and glaciers, including one of world's largest non-polar glaciers - Bara Shigri.

Kibber, the highest motorable village in the world! The homogeneity of the houses is charming and establishes the lack of social discretion in Spiti.
For the spiritual seeker, Spiti is home to some thousand year old Gompas (Buddhist Monasteries) and Tibetan art. There is also the mummy of a monk who meditated to death. Spiti has a very introvert type of culture  since the area has been in isolation for a long time. Dhankar Li, Tabo Mud, Gungri, Lidang, Sagnam, Mane Gogm amd Giu  are some of the monasteries which are placed in and around Spiti.

Key Gompa

A peep inside the resplendent Ki Monastery
The majority people who live here in Spiti are Buddhists who are the followers of the Geluk Pa Sect. I keep on hearing “Om mani padme hum” chant constantly and the repetition is believed to bring fortune and wash away all the sins. Spiti possesses a haunting beauty which one  cannot see elsewhere for all the bleakness seen there.

The place also boasts of the world's highest motorable and inhabited villages. A place where lucky few can still find fossils in the valleys or manage to sight Snow Leopards, Ibex, Red Fox, etc. Spiti is also known as the Fossil park of the world  as the three villages Kibber, Kaza and Kye fall on the favourite route for fossil collections. These villages are located at an altitude between 13,500 ft. and 14,400 ft. above sea level. Langza is a place well known for maritime fossils and are found on either side of Kang-yur and Paapen-yu nullahs near the village Langza.

Dead Snow along the main highway enveloped with layers of soil
Finally, it is the beautiful people of Spiti who lend the valley its divine soul. These people, despite the harsh environment and poor living standards, are jovial and courteous. The children of Spiti will undoubtedly remind you of the innocence and unfettered freedom & joy of childhood so deeply cherished by us all. They live in match-box styled white coloured houses with lungtas fluttering from their rooftops and speak Bhoti and Hindi languages.
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