Four Friends in Goa

Water Storage Tank at Fort Aguada

Water Storage Tank at Fort Aguada

Goa was the next destination for our Monsoon inspired trip to western India. Goa an independent state now, was the last city or state to become part of India after Portugal was virtually forced to retreat in 1961. This smallish state of India is one of the most happening place and has one of the best beaches in India. This also is the hippiest place of India and one of top choice for foreigners coming to India. Goa is also the place where young and young at heart, both go. We too landed at Goa from Pune after crisscrossing through some of the most picturesque roads of India.

We reached late in evening and checked in a private apartment owned by one of our common friends from Lucknow. The evening was celebrated in the Goan spirit of chilled beers sitting at a restaurant besides the beach at Baga. The crowd there was of youngsters mostly and usually they were from Mumbai and around for a weekend break. The music was quite loud, but in tempo with the young crowds. Interestingly even here right besides the sea, I noticed many souls chatting on their mobile phones while their friends were sitting just across the table. Even those who were not chatting were checking their mobiles phones every 5 minutes or so and may be even sooner. The photos and selfies were being clicked at regular intervals.

We decided to stroll along the beach after some time. Since it was night, the lifeguards were warning anybody who was going closer to waves. We continued to stroll along for sometime and shared our long cherished memories. It was a pleasant evening. The pleasure of walking on sand with your best friends is too sweet literally. It resuscitates youth in you. If you can disassociate yourself from your normal worries, you feel light and young. I felt that for sure and so did my friends.

Next morning we were out on beach soon and went in for soaking ourselves in sea water. We were overtaken soon by splash of sea waves, a million dollar pleasure. The moments spent frolicking with waves and water with friends make you young at heart because you play with water as any other kid would play actually. All of us except Tomar enjoyed this water sojourn as he went out for a jog alone.

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At Goa Beach

Tomar Giving a Pose

Tomar Giving a Pose

The trip continued over many more chilled beers sold at dirt cheap prices compared to Lucknow. The memories continued to be shared. The beaches and places continued to be visited. We landed at Fort Aguada as part of our trip. Last time I visited this place was with Dabbu’s and my own family in 2007. Dabbu for his personal reasons perhaps would have travelled down the memory lane.

Dabbu and I

Dabbu and I

This place was used by Portuguese as light house and also for storage of fresh water, is just besides the sea and provides few good vantage points to click yourself. We took turns to get clicked and continued to enrich our memories.

At Fort Aguada

At Fort Aguada

Raja at Fort Aguada

Raja at Fort Aguada

At The Walls of the Fort Aguada

At The Walls of the Fort Aguada

Goa is the place really to be with friends……..

Dil Chahata Hai in Monsoons……

The Green Tint

The Green Everywhere

Nobody can miss the impact of Monsoon in central India. Unlike at other times of year, the green becomes the code and color of this otherwise rugged terrain. The vast spans of land are painted with every possible shades of green and you feel as if the entire earth is covered with the soft green carpet of grass. The tree leaves and every single blade of grass get so fully loaded with water that they  start swaying in ecstasy. Perhaps each of them starts trying to outsmart other by flashing its greenest smile possible. What a scene really. One has to be there only to absorb the beauty and bounty of greens during Indian Monsoons. We were lucky to be there and were really celebrating our choice of the route and the destination at this time of the year.

The Scenery

The Scenery

We reached Lonavala quite soon and decided to unwind. Feeling hungry and a bit tired, we landed at Cafe 24, the 24 hour restaurant inside the resort. We straightened our back on cane sofas besides pool and gulped few chilled beers before sinking our teeth in few non veg recipes. Sitting there, with so many old friends, besides pool in the backdrop of hills was a moment, which all of us were waiting for. Sitting there and watching few water mermaids in the pool literally, without the pulls of the better halves and demanding kids, made us believe (falsely though) that, we were really free souls and accountable to no one but ourselves. We kept on chatting and gossiping and kept on pulling legs of each other till late evening. The missed lunch was followed by early evening snacks and chilled beer. We had a great start of the trip on the first evening actually. We retired to our rooms afterwards to take some nap.

The Swanky Restroom at Resort

The Swanky Restroom at Resort

The rooms we had at resorts were luxurious in many senses and had high tech Jacuzzi bath tubs with LCD screen, to give you company while soaking. We took turns to enjoy that in our respective rooms. Those who went in first, had problems in handling the nobs and showers with hot and cold water gushing out at will, from all unexpected corners of the tub. But they languished in bath tubs for long. The next two, to show parity in taste and knowledge repeated the exercise with almost same level of difficulty in handling complex system bath tubs. It was rejuvenating nevertheless and all of us felt much better. The dinner followed afterwards and we retired to our beds.

Next day, en route to Pune, we were supposed (on Raja’s insistence, who loves counting the number of Jyotirlingas visited by him) to travel to Bhimashankar, one of the 12 pious Jyotirlingams in India. As we woke up, we saw the lush green campus of resort, sprinkled with rain water. The morning birds were there with full vigor and energy and were happily chirping to express their gratitude as the rains force many of their prey, to come out in open be feasted by the avian. We had  the luxury morning tea in the private spaces just outside our rooms with newspapers in front of us. It was such a fine and cozy morning to start with. I felt as if I was being gradually detoxified in this serene and green environment.

The Morning at Resort

The Morning at Resort

After bath and breakfast we checked out of our rooms and proceeded to Bhimashankar. The temple is situated inside the  Bhimashankar Wildlife Reserve. When we reached on the gates of the temple, there was a long queue of devotees. We requested our acquaintance there to help us get a quick entry. We were lucky to manage that and  worshiped Lord Shiva at this holy place in dense green Sahyadri forests. After taking prasad at the Mandir, we proceeded towards our next destination, Pune.

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The Pune as a city is one of the best I have seen in India. Known to have one of the most salubrious climate in central India, Pune had been the Monsoon Capital of Bombay Presidency and the tradition continues still. We checked in our hotel late evening and moved straight to rooftop restaurant of Hotel O at Koregaon. The views of the city including those of Trump Towers at a distance are breathtaking. Dinner was hosted for us by the Collector Pune, a bright young officer from our own city, Lucknow. We were really in good company with some great hosts in this trip. We were having a great time together as there were no complexities involved. Ralph Waldo Emerson has rightly said perhaps, ” It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them”.

On The Way

On The Way

We all were happy to be childish and stupid to enjoy this opportunity. This trip was interesting in a way. Four, decades old friends, going for a Dil-Chahata-Hai trip were looking for greens and temples, and Gods and Goa together!

To Be Continued…….

Mahakaal

Mahakaal, Ujjain

Mahakaal, Ujjain

Recognized as one of the most prominent Jyotirlingam in India, the temple of Mahakaal situated in India’s Greenwich, Ujjain is one of it’s kind in world. The temple devoted to Lord Shiva is known specially for sacred daily ritual of Mahabhasma Aarti. The ritual starts at 4 am daily and carries on for two hours every day.

I had heard about this special ritual from many sources and decided therefore to be part of it, in my recent trip to Ujjain. You have to pre-book the slot in online Aarati, as there is huge rush to be there. To take part in Aarati which starts at 4 am sharp, we woke up at 1:30 am. It was tough to get up at this time and specially for the kids, but determination to be a part of unique Mahabhasm Arati was a big motivator for every body. We took bath etc and wore a dhoti for the occaison. Actually its mandatory for women to wear saaree and for men to wear a dhoti to enter sanctum sanctorum or gribha griha of the temple. I was helped by my wife to wear a dhoti. It was awkward initially but once done, I realised this Indian dress is really the most comfortable one for Indian climate and yes it looks more graceful both for men and women.

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Waiting before Aarati at 3 am

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All decked up in traditional Attire

We reached the temple complex by 3 am and after security check, sat in the waiting area. Even at this early hour of the day, the area around temple was all full of activities. The shopkeepers outside were offering flowers and prasadam. The dhoti was also available for hire and for outright purchase. It is very interesting to see people helping each other at this time of the morning in tying the Dhoti of each other. Gradually a decent crowd built up around the main gate of main temple. There were more than a 1000 devotees, who had queued up to witness the Mahabhasm Arati. The whole environmemt was charged up really. The freshness of an early morning in the Brihma Mahurat was rejuvenating and very pleasing.

We were allowed to go inside, a little before 4 am. I went in along with my family to offer water to Lord Shiva. It was a very auspicious occasion for my entire family. I prayed for my family and vasudhaiv kutumbkam. After that we came out to take our position in Nandi Hall to witness the Mahabhasma Aarati. I sat besides the Nandi idol to have a clear view of entire Mahabhasma Aarati.

During Aarati an elaborate sequence is followed to please Lord Shiva. The Jyotirlingam is first bathed with holy waters of Narmada. It is followed by bathing with milk and offering curd, honey and other pious materials to lingam. It is followed by decoration, by making paintings over lingam with removable materials.  Various forms and shapes of Lordshiva are drawn over Jyotirlingam every day. The most unique procedure however is bathing the lingam with bhasma. It is said that the ashes from the fresh burning pyres are procured every morning from specified Hindu crematoriums. In no other Jyotirlingam this ritual is done in India. The entire process continued for for than 2 hours. We were really feeling elated and charged up. Finally the ceremony came to end and we were ushered out to the courtyard outside.

After Aarati

After Aarati

The morning light had broken in when we came out. A gentle breeze was also blowing there and we all were very hapy. We purchased the prasadam of Mahaakal and distributed among ourselves and saved for our families back home.

The Lord Shiva's favorite flower(madar) garland

The Lord Shiva’s favorite flower(madar) garland

The Surkunda Devi Temple near Dhanolti, Uttarakhand

My visit to Surkunda devi temple was due since 2004. I had visited the temple in 2003 to pray the Goddess to bestow upon me the peace and relief from worldly pain. The promise to visit Maa again was therefore due from 2004 as things settled exactly as prayed. However that was easier said than done. Kabir aptly writes, ” dukh me sumiran sab kare sukh mein kare na koya, sukh me sumiran jo karen to dukh kahe ko hoya.”  So the dilly dallying continued for next 10 years. It ended last week when honestly speaking I could not go to the charming Valley of Flowers. The Valley of flowers situated in Uttarakhand at the height of around 10000 feet in west Himalaya is a part of Nanda Devi National  Park and is known for its unbelievable display of colorful range of flowers. Due to still under construction roads in the final patches and running short of 2 days for a decent plan, I settled for the visit to Maa Surkunda Devi Temple near popular hill station Dhanolti. So in third week of september 2014, proceeding from the state capital Dehradun along with my Jija ji , I reached the forest rest house Dhanolti in the late evening around 7 pm. The forest rest house in Dhanolti is a pre independence structure with typical hill station rest house features. The views from the rest house are amazing though on one side of it an imposing guest house of GMVN has come up and has somewhat dwarfed the beautiful but small guest house. We had  the coffee at the glass house  built in 1997 in the courtyard of the FRH and went ahead for an evening stroll on the road. The road in this hilly town gets deserted with the sunset as the most shopkeepers retire to their villages situated in the hills nearby. The frequent sighting of Leopard on the slopes and sometimes on the roads of Dhanolti also hastens an early shutdown of the town. We too did not go much further and decided to beat an early retreat. The food at the rest house was ready rather early. The temperatures were around 16 degree and to enjoy the great weather in true spirit we set for few drinks together and enjoyed the the devadar enthused ambience. It appeared as if the reed diffuser with the natural essence of Devdaar was placed right inside of our dining room. I retired to bed around 10 pm and went in to sleep quickly. Next morning we started early. The way to the temple was really full of fresh morning energy. This time infact in any part of the world gives you a booster dose of energy and you feel like a blessed human being brimming with positive energy. The temperatures were around 10 degree. The temple devoted to the Shakti swaroop is situated in the Kaddukhal village of Tahsil Dhanolti of district Dehradun at an altitude around 10000 feet. It is just 6 kms from the beautiful and picturesque Devdaar trees infested small town of Dhanolti. It is 24 kms from popular hill station of Mussorrie also called as the queen of hills. Situated at the height of 7500 feet the temperature here are best in summers and on lower side in winters.  The snowfall occurs every year almost mandatorily. The small village of Kaddukhal is on the road to Chamba and almost 19 kms before the town of Chamba. The village serves as the base camp of the 2.5 kms track to the temple. A small bus stop cum taxi stand is on the foot steps of the temple and is also lined by few shops selling prasad for the devotees going to the temple. After purchasing the prasad at the start(its not available on the temple trek in the lean season at least), I proceeded to a 2.5 km track. The start of the trek on hills usually makes you realize in first 100 meters itself that your lungs were made only for your ascending steps in a maximum one floor house. The panting for breath which starts so soon gets unique sounds out of your nostrils as if you are a horse who has put in non stop 100 km sprint to be there. The realization of your limits actually humbles you a lot and your worship of the Goddess starts right there. It also does not help when you find locals sprinting ahead of you as a Bajaj Pulsar motorcycle racing ahead in style from a rickety hero cycle ! My panting kept on increasing for next 500 mts as after that I got a level patch i could walk as a human. Interestingly the road to the temple was rather decent as compared to what it was during my first visit in 2003. It had railings too in steep patches and few steel benches too donated by few worshipers who had got painted and full postal addresses etc as if to receive a vote of thanks from you via speed post.

The Valley View

The Valley View

The trek upwards also has facility of mules for those who can not expand their lungs like a Shaktiman. Interestingly the mule services is strategically placed after the first 500 meters in all religious places i have visited in India. Actually they are perfectly placed right at the places where they know that the pilgrim would surrender rather too meekly after a deep realization of their flat lungs ! To my agony the mule service in the week of pitra-piksha preceding the onset of Shardiya Navratra was not vailable in that wee hour of the morning. I had no option but to continue my journey with heavy feet and with chant of the Goddess without whose help there was no chance to ascend the hills. As I progressed the music played on the top of the hills started getting closer to me and with a lot of sweating and resultant lightening of the cloth i kept on going. Though the journey was not so long as happens in Vaishno Devi and like places there was not even a single shop on the way that could facilitate some lime water or some energizer etc for the hapless souls. I kept on trudging and finally reached the top of the hills in approx 70 minutes.

The entrance gate of the temple at village Kaddukhal

The entrance gate of the temple at village Kaddukhal

The locals, I was told don’t take more than 20 minutes to do the same. After placing my shoes in designated palaces i washed by feet and hands and reached the temple. The temple much to my pleasant surprise was renovated or you can say rebuilt actually in last few years as while earlier there stood a traditional small temple building, now there was a beautifully done temple complex on the patterns of an admixture of Hindu and Tibetan style of architecture as visible in the photographs attached. The temple was painted in yellow and red and had a carpeted area inside for the devotees with a Girbha-Griha for the traditional old idol of Maa Surkunda. On entry to all temples or religious places which are reached by after considerable efforts and pain like trekking, one feels a sense of immense emancipation. A deep breath there fills your lungs with pure bliss. You thank almighty and realize that he wanted to see whether you will take enough pains to come and meet him. You feel elated and recharged as if you were fresh like a flower and closest to the almighty. It was a bliss. I bowed before the Goddess and prayed from the deep of my heart. I thanked her for her blessings and sought her blessings for life further to come. The Pujari offered us the holy water and consecrated the prasad bought by us from the foothills. I felt blessed. Coming out of the main temple I went for breaking raw coconut and after offering to holy trident there had some coconut kernel. It was an enchanting view outside with the clouds setting on the temple and covering it almost completing. The valley too was partially covered with clouds. I took some photographs of the scenery and after enjoying breathtaking views started the return journey. The journey back was obviously less treacherous and it took almost half the time. Reaching down rather comfortably we thanked Goddess for her kindness and finally packed ourselves in the vehicle and went back to our halt at Dhanolti for our next destination. Thus ended a great journey due upon me for last 10 years. Jitendra DSC_3578 Continue reading “The Surkunda Devi Temple near Dhanolti, Uttarakhand”