india

From Queen of Hills to Queen of Hearts

There is no other credential about me that makes people ‘Wow’, than the fact that I hail from Shimla.

Most people reading this post, if from India would have understood the above statement. If you dont know whats so great about Shimla, you may want to use Google Images to get a first hand feel. Or cruise thru this post as well.

Shimla is a small beautiful scenic hill town and the the capital city of Himachal Pradesh, a state in Northern India which cradles in the backdrop of the mighty Himalayas. Its cool summers and snowy winters made the Britishers feel at home making it as the ‘Summer Capital’ of colonial India in 1864. The era of the British ‘Raj’ gave this town a European facial with Victorian buildings, parks, town hall, hospitals, markets and even a railway line which is today protected by UNESCO.

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As if it hangs in mid air. The beautiful landscape of a busy town today, Shimla!

There are millions of sites and blogs which would tell you what to see and do in Shimla. Its so damn touristy. Its probably also the Honeymoon Capital of India. Since I have my entire family there, I generally dont do the touristy trips. However 2 months back, i did take a walk with my camera to capture some shots of places i liked the most

Mall Road : Heritage Walk

Very obvious place as its the center of the town. An arterial road flanked by shops, eateries, hotels and many old buildings. You can start walking from whichever end is nearest to you. A km walk from the Mall road will bring you to the opulent Heritage Hotel Oberoi Clarkes

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Hotel Oberoi Clarkes: The beautiful heritage building dates back to 1898. It boasts of Victorian era furniture, mantelpieces and heirlooms.

The Mall Road is local at the same time elite. It has some great views of the city thats now getting congested with concrete. However the misty mountains continue give it the young gal look.

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Queen of Hills, Shimla. Gentle valleys, sloping mountains and the red roofs, very European indeed.

As you walk ahead on the mall, there are some notable and beautiful Architecture to admire. Some of them are now government offices, some are hotels or bookstores.

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The Christ Church : You cannot ignore this incredibly beautiful Church at the Ridge. Clicked from the Mall Road

As we walk further ahead on the Mall, you come across Gaitey Theater. Dates back to 1877, this Victorian Theater has hosted illustrious British statesmen, Indian Cinema glitterati and needless to say abundant tourists. Much of this structure was destroyed in a fire few years back. The Theater has undergone a restoration and then reopened to public. On the other side of the same building is a Police Control Room

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The beautiful Victorian building housing the Gaitey Theater 

A stone’s throw from the Gaitey Theater is the majestic building of the Municipal Corporation of Shimla. This was the Town Hall of Shimla as established by the Britishers, which is now the local Municipal office. I was reminded of many Town Halls I have visited in Britain, indeed this is a clear reflection of the Victorian architecture.

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Dating back to 1851, The splendid building of Municipal Corporation. The police band plays here sometimes on Sundays in their uniform, its nothing less than a much awaited musical performance for both locals and tourists

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A local policeman dressed smartly yet bit dramatically

Probably the last stop on the Mall as you move towards the end of the bifurcation to the Ridge, next to the Scandal Point is the General Post office. This is a Heritage Building, dating back to 1883, it has appeared on Postal Stamps as well. This is my favorite. Iam told the colors of white and red are contemporary as per a government direction.

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General Post Office of Shimla. A well restored Victorian building. Love the white and red color combination

Right outside the Post Office are these filigree benches that you can even see all over in the UK. People sitting basking in sun. Conversations, gossips and some knitting.

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Shimla has a typical laid back hill resort kind of ambiance. People are not rushing, jostling or hurrying for something. Its relaxed; its like living.

And Britishers did leave their stamp behind till today.

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The Red Letter Box!

My last stop on the Heritage Walk on the Mall road is the Ridge. Its another road a level above or higher than the Mall Road which gives way to some amazing views of the other side of the city. On the Ridge are two iconic Heritage landmarks. The Christ Church that we earlier clicked from the Mall is now in front of us with the State Library onto the Left. I have fooled many folks showing this pic to guess this place and 9/10 guessed a place in Europe.

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This place is full of selfie lovers. There are many films shot in this area. One of recent ones was 3 Idiots.

Shimla is a total unwind place. Coming from a stressed worklife and a fast paced daily routine, I feel totally relaxed here. More because Iam not a tourist here, its Home for me. You can explore the markets and hike nearby places on foot. The peak winters can be harsh and experience heavy snowfall, however the summers are yummy. Bright sunny days and cold nights.

While Shimla still retains the charm of the era of ‘Raj’ it will be always preferred by tourists worldwide as a scenic spot giving access to the majestic Himalayas. Though I have been to Shimla a countless number of times, my favorite part of my stay every time has been to admire the wilderness, the dramatic skies, the misty mountains and cuddle in my quilt.

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This is one of the clicks when i was waiting for my parents to come out of a government office, as me and sis had nothing else to do, we kept firing our shots.

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This was literally a crisp morning…you can actually feel that crunch. Sun kissed valley, thick green forests, I feel blessed to be breathing these views right from my balcony.

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And this is not sunrise…the sunset on a very dark cloudy day.

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If there is anything that stole my heart in this place, its the flirtatious skies, they tease you every minute with different moods and you just cant get enough of it. 

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The most interesting time of the day; sunset on the valley; this is the best photo out of around 75 photos of the same sky at the same time

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When you are bored of the looking at the same mountains every day, there are enough interesting avenues to entertain you…Like staring back at these new fellas…And you dont have to go to a particular place to find them. From Mall Road to offices to terraces, they are omnipresent.

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Or eavesdrop at their deep conversations

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Or get envious at that back rub

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Oh no…dont think it that way…Its not doggy style at all….Its Platonic Langur play…

Vital Stats

  • Shimla really doesnt have a functional airport. I understand it would take sometime for it to be completely operational for civilian flights. So the best option to reach there would be by road. You would likely come from New Delhi. Take a bus (around 10 hours) or hire a cab (around 8-10 hours) or take a train to Chandigarh and a bus or cab from Chandigarh (around 4-4.5 hours) or take a train from Delhi to Kalka and take the toy train and experience the UNESCO Heritage railway track on narrow gauge cruising through mountains and a 100 tunnels. Its a lifetime experience so if you have plenty of time and fancy to go slow, this is the option you must take(around 6 hours)
  • Eat like a local. Step down from the Mall Road to the Lower Bazaar. Its where you get the real street food. Jalebis, Chaat, Pakoras to get the local flavours. And if you want to dine for a heavy meal, Shere Punjab or any other joint which has a place to sit is good. It will be essentially a north indian punjabi meal, chole (chickpeas), kadi, rajma, mixed veg, potato in everything, for a change you will love all of it
  • Stay at any hotel or guest house or B&B, there are a whole lot of new ones that have cropped up. For great views you may want to step a bit outside the city like Mushrobhra. There are three and five star like Oberoi Clarks, Wildflower Hall, Holiday Home etc who have good service and accommodation.

And for more tips or any suggestions, feel free to write to me.

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Categories: capital city, castle, cathedral, Christ Church, church, churches, europe, Gaitery Theater, Heritage Walk, hill resort, hill station, himachal, himachal pradesh, himalayas, honeymoon trip, incredible india, india, love, lower bazaar, Mall road, mountains, North India, old town, Queen of Hills, ridge, Scandal Point, shimla, solo travel, streets, Summer Capital, travel, travel blog, UNESCO, visit india, visithimachal, visitmyhometown, weekend trip | Leave a comment

Iconic Temples of Chennai

If one has to count the temples in Chennai, I am sure it will be one of the most herculean task. There is a temple in almost every street or neighborhood. Sometimes they are so enveloped between the houses and shops that you would know them only from the sandalwood fragrance mixed with some ‘sambhar’ aroma on the streets.
Chennai is referred as Temple City many times. Its almost a daily ritual of people residing here to make a visit to these temples. For those who are in the city as tourists, some of these Iconic temples should definitely be on your ‘Must See Places’. 
Iam wearing both the Hats while writing this post; that of a ‘Chennai-te’ if I may say so and of a traveler.
An earthern lamp lighted in a temple, flickering in the wind. The flame still holds strong, as strong as the prayer of the one who lit it.
Chennai is a 400 year old city, so are the temples. There are many known, and many lesser known temples which date back to the era of the dynasties of Cholas and Pallavas. Most of these temples have tall gopurams (towers) with innumerable deities carved and scenes depicted from many Indian epics.
 
Secondly most of the temples are made of stone, black stone which gives a very dark look to the temples. Even the deities in the temple are generally of black stone.
Thirdly photography is banned in most of them, atleast in all the ones I have visited. So you can click some shots of the temple exterior only.
 
Fourth, there are a whole lot of bikes, cycles, and vendors selling jasmine flowers, lamps, coconut s outside the temple, so you may struggle to get a full portrait photograph of the temple. So this makes the Third point difficult.
 
Fifth, most of the sanctum sanctorum are dimly lit. There are no bright lights, its only the glow of the earthern lamps that lights up the deities. So dilate your eyes well to capture the moment.
 
Sixth and very important, ‘Temple’ in the local language Tamil is ‘Koil‘ or ‘Kovil‘. Most of the temple streets will start or end with the word ‘Koil‘. Also, inside the temple most of the directions, entry, exit and the names of the deities are written in ‘Tamil’ the local language. At few places they are in English. So if you recognize Indian Gods, you maybe able to decipher whom you are praying to and choose the right prayer. But if you dont, like Me you can simply admire their beauty and pray with faith in their superpowers. 
 
Seventh which is important for all who are not very familiar with Hindu Mythology. Hindu Gods are highly polymorphic. They appear in various forms or avatars. A single God is worshiped in different avatars in different temples and have different legends corresponding to it. Yeah, it can be confusing, I get confused too but at the same time very interesting and mystical. Truly spells the prowess of ‘multivariate existence’ of Almighty (oooh whats that???).

 
Having stayed for four years in Chennai, I never clicked a single picture of any temple. It was like home and who clicks photos of your own walls daily.While leaving the city for good to move to another destination, I visited these temples again as a mark of reverence for what the city offered me. Here is my pick of the temples that i loved in Chennai. This is also my recommendation to all travelers and tourists visiting Chennai who are looking to soak themselves in some history and aura of spirituality.
1. Sri Ashtalakshmi Temple
In a very cluttered metropolitan city, this is a young temple situated at an envious spot on the seashore on Besant Nagar Beach. Dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi who in Indian mythology is the consort of Lord Vishnu. She is also an embodiment of prosperity, beauty and wealth. This temple houses her eight different forms hence its called ‘Asht'(eight)Lakshmi.Its a three storeyed temple. I loved its ‘vimana/gopuram’which I got a chance to have a closer look as the terrace was open and i sneaked some photos of the beautiful scenes sculpted in bright colors.
The Vimana of Ashtalakshmi Temple
View from the Terrace of the complete Vimana
View of the Bay of Bengal from the terrace of the Ashtalakshmi Temple
2. Parthasarathy Swamy Temple
 
This 8th century temple in Triplicane, Chennai is believed to be the oldest and one of the 108 Holy temples of Lord Vishnu. Built by Pallavas, it is dedicated to Lord Krishna(one of the avtars/forms of Lord Vishnu).This beautiful temple is replete with history. The presiding deity is ‘Parthasarathy’. In Mahabharatha, Lord Krishna was the charioteer(called Sarathy) of Arjuna, the Pandava prince(also called as Partha), hence the name Parthasarathy. The deity who is a charioteer sports a moustache and is believed to have scars on his face owing to the blows from the arrows of Bheeshma in the war.One of the very few Hindu temples in the world dedicated to Lord Krishna as a charioteer and Lord Vishnu being present with his three generations..
The Gopuram of Parthasarathy Temple on a very Bright, sunny day.
Photography is prohibited inside the temple. So the only photos i could click were of the magnificent Gopuram of the temple.
 3. Kapaleeshwara Temple
Maybe one of the most visited temple in Chennai, located in the heart of the hustling and bustling Mylapore. Dedicated to the most popular Indian God, Lord Shiva, this was built in 7th century. This temple also worships his consort, Goddess Parvati, depicted as a pea-hen and called ‘Karpagambal‘.The temple has a beautiful gopuram. Statues from the life of Lord Shiva galore.I have always loved visiting this temple though its quite crowded. Being in the heart of an old part of Chennai, this temple is surrounded by lovely shops offering some delicious South Indian food. My favourite is ‘Karpagam Mess’ which is a family run mess featured in many National Food Shows for its amazing simple snacks(referred as Tiffin) Dosas, Vadas, Khichdi etc. A famous Kanchipuram Sarees showroom ‘Rasi Silks’ is just a stone’s throw from the exit of the Temple.
Kapalesshwar Temple Mylapore, Chennai. Clicked from my phone Camera from inside the temple.

4. Sri Nitya Kalyana Perumal Temple : 365 days Wedding Festival
Built by the Pallava kings, this is also one of the 108 holy temples of Lord Vishnu. This temple has an interesting legend. It is believed that Sage Galiva had 360 daughters. Woo! Thats a whooping figure, so needless to say he was a troubled father with worries of getting his daughters married. The very benevolent Lord Vishnu came to his rescue and promised to marry one daughter a day of the year. On the last day the Lord converted all of them to one, who is depicted as his consort, ‘Komalavalli‘ in the temple.Lord Vishnu is in the form of ‘Varaha‘ (Boar) and holds his consort on his left thigh. 
Because of this legend, this temple is very important for all those who are facing difficulties in finding their beloved Life partner. Parents, single men and women, pay reverence here beseeching the kind Lord Vishnu to answer their prayers and gift them the much awaited fruit of marriage.
I have visited this temple with my family members to pray for the wedlock of one of our unmarried ladies and well, it worked(though after a decade of visits) 
 
*I havent clicked any photographs of this temple and neither borrowing from the web, If you search by the name of the temple, you shall find many images*
 
5. Marundeeswarar Temple
My last pick and my Best one!
Another pristine temple dating back to 7th century and one of the largest spread over 1 acre near the shores of Bay of Bengal. This temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva called as Lord Marundeeshwara who taught Sage Agatsya about some magical medicine. Hence this temple gained fame for all who wanted to get rid of diseases and ailments. They pray to the Lord for a speedy cure.
It is believed that Sage Valmiki stayed here and was blessed by the Lord. The neighbourhood of this temple is called ‘Valmiki Nagar‘.
This temple is closest to my heart. During my fours years stay in Chennai, i was residing at Valmiki Nagar, a stone’s throw away from this sacred temple. Visiting this temple was quite a frequent affair for me. The peace and serenity of sitting in its stone courtyard soaked in the chanting of hymns is inexplicable.
I still remember those countless evening when I used to sit under a tree all by myself, reflecting on my life, sometimes shedding tears. Well I wasnt ailing if you thought so, just hit by a low phase in life.
We all turn to God during such testing times, don’t we?
After all he is the only companion who never leaves your side; be it Sun or Shade!
 
Marundesswarar Temple Gopurams from the front of the Temple. It was a very bright and sunny day.
Temple Tank also called Sarovar outside the Marundeeshwarar Temple.
Shops and Stalls outside the Temple selling Rosaries, earthern lamps, idols and other knick knacks.

Note to the travelers:

* Chennai is the capital city of Tamilnadu, India. Its the fifth largest city in India (source ; Wikipedia).
It is very easy to reach here from any national and international destination. It has a large international airport.
Language can be a big challenge for first time visitors while commuting or trying to get your way in local places like temples, shops, streets etc
Commuting in Chennai is also not too difficult. Autos and taxis is what i would recommend to first time travelers.Word of caution : They can be very expensive at times.
Weather is always sultry with high humidity. You will sweat, sweat and sweat! So prepare accordingly. Best time to visit as a tourist should preferably be in last 3-4 months of the year.
Food : Chennai is a haven for food lovers. Food from all over the world has a place here. However my strong recommendation would be to try local and famous food joints serving South Indian food.*
Categories: chennai temples, india, tamilnadu temples, visit chennai, visit india, visit tamilnadu | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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