Thursday, February 26, 2009

Bewitching West And Splendid Himalayas

The motivation:

In our busy daily routine, we mostly pay attention to our immediate pressing issues related to work or family, devoting all our time and energies in solving them. In the process we get deeply involved at the cost of our health. With the time available for relaxation steadily decreasing the health related problems increase resulting in more doctor visits. Problems are bound to crop up, solutions need to be worked out but we cannot afford to overdo and get into serious health problems. We have to recharge our batteries at regular intervals to be effective and efficient in our valued activities. For that we need to have a break in the routine some time and spend with family and friends in the fold of Mother Nature, unwinding, forgetting the endless mundane issues. The earlier generations used to go on „Theertha yatraa‟s perhaps, towards achieving this as well as to divert their focus to the Supreme power of sustenance as a means to achieve salvation after death.
We had been going on long trips to meet this goal, perhaps not at such a leisurely pace as needed. That is due to the invariable tight schedule and budget limitation coupled by our desire to cover as many important places to expand our cultural horizon as possible with an insatiable aspiration to explore nature‟s expansive beauty at the same time.
Our ancestors considered temples as most suitable places for exhibiting the artistic talents and conducting religious discourses and carry on literary activities as people from any part of the country can congregate there unrestricted, take shelter, have food and indulge in the activities without burdening the locals, especially in a period when the tourist infrastructure was hopelessly inadequate. As the temples are considered sacred, society protects them with its might from misuse and vandalism. However, certain powerful Muslim rulers tried to destroy a few rich and very revered temples for the riches or religious animosity, but the devout Hindus pooled their resources and restored them to the extent possible at the earliest opportunity.

The Plan:

Of the innumerable Shiva temples, twelve are considered as most sacred and are called Jyothirlingas (Beams of light) as per the scriptures. They are spread over the entire country and few are difficult to reach. About a decade back, I decided to offer prayers at all the Jyothirlingas before I retire, presuming that I may not have resources or energy to travel after my retirement. Till now we could offer prayers at Grishneswaram, Triambakeswaram and Srisailam in the Central India trip in 1979 and at Rameswaram during our south India trip in late 80s. In our October 1994 trip we prayed at Viswanath temple in Kasi, Baidyanath temple near Jesidih in Bihar. When we attended Madhavi‟s marriage in Indore in December 1994, we took the opportunity to visit Ujjain and prayed Mahakaleswar and also visited Omkareswar and prayed Sri Omkar Mandhata.
In this trip we planned to pray Bheemshankar in Maharashtra, Naageswar and Somanath in Gujarat and Kedareswar in the Himalayas thus covering balance the Jyothirlingas.
Bewitching West: Phase 1- Maharashtra
I, Vijaya & our son Umashankar(Kiran), started on 4th May 1996 evening at 6.30 pm from Bowenpalli to catch Bombay Express leaving Hyderabad for Pune. By then Shanti and Arati left for USA after marriage. We had confirmed reservation for all the sectors of the planned trip and my brother-in-law Balaji & his wife Prabhavathi were to accompany us. Due to unprecedented traffic jam at Mahatma Gandhi Road in Secunderabad we were stuck and could barely make it to the compartment before the train started. We put Balaji, Prabhavathi & my Mother-in-law (who came to the station to see us off, as she did not plan to accompany us since she covered by then all the places) also on tenterhooks, but were greatly relieved on seeing us hurrying towards the compartment.

Below is map covering the train journey of planned trip:
Total Train journey: 4520 km & Road journey: 2600 km in 30 days
After settling in the train, I informed all that Sri A.K.Satyanarayana Rao, an old friend, will be receiving us at Pune station. Sri A.K.S.Rao was my degree classmate in Central College Bangalore, sharing my literary interests. We did not meet after our college days though we were speaking on phone occasionally. They wondered how we will recognize each other after a lapse of 37 years as there were bound to be many changes in both of us. We were told later that similar remarks were made by his family also. But to the surprise of all, we recognized each other instantly on Pune platform and were happy meeting each other after a very long time. We went to the Inspection Quarters in Shivaji Nagar Exchange premises where we had two suites reserved. After getting ready we got in to a Maruthi van booked by Sri Rao and went to the zoo as per Sri Rao‟s plan. We wanted to visit Khandala too, the same day but could not manage due to the vehicle trouble. We dropped the family in AKS Rao‟s house and we both went to get the vehicle repaired which took about two hours. In the meanwhile, A.K.S.Rao‟s family took them to Chetushrungi temple. After we returned we all went to Vaishnovi Devi temple in the vicinity, a replica of the original temple in Jammu. It was good experience passing through narrow cave passage before reaching the deity. Later we had a delicious dinner in A.K.Rao‟s house. He has two lovely and very active daughters, Anuradha, a master in Computer Science from Pune University and working in IMI Ltd and Aswini, joining +2 after the colleges reopen. His wife is very hospitable lady working in DRDO Pune along with her husband. His mother, a very affectionate lady speaking Telugu, made the company lively. We both reviewed the events and interests of the intervening past and our nostalgic college days before we returned to the Inspection Quarters late in the night. Bhimashankar Jyothirlinga & Bhimashankar Temple . Next day Sri Rao came promptly at 6.30 am with breakfast for all of us. We started for Bhimashankaram, about 130
km from Pune (20 km off Pune-Nasik Road), with Sri Rao guiding us. It is a „swyambhu‟ Linga in a dense forest, at the starting point of River Bhima. We had to go down to reach the temple on the banks of river Bhima, which merges with River Krishna at Raichur. According to the legend, once a demon called Bhima lived with his mother Karkati in the dense forests of Dhakini, on the lofty ranges of the Sahaydri. Bhima was so cruel that everyone was scared of him. But what tormented Bhima was his curiosity regarding his father. One day, Bhima urged his mother to tell him who his father was and why he abandoned them in the wilderness of the forest. His mother revealed that he was the son of Kumbhakarna, the younger brother of the mighty King Ravana - the King of Lanka. Bhima‟s mother also told him that Lord Vishnu in his incarnation as Lord Rama annihilated Kumbhakarna. This infuriated Bhima and he vowed to avenge Lord Vishnu. Bhima performed severe penance to please Lord Brahma. The compassionate creator was pleased and granted him immense prowess. Possessing those powers, Bhima began to cause havoc in the three worlds. Gods and along with Lord Brahma beseeched Lord Shiva to come to their rescue, to which Lord Shiva agreed and killed the demon Bhima. After praying Bhimashankar Jyothirlinga, we went to Alandi, a holy place where Sant Gnaneswar entered Jivasamaadhi. It is widely believed that the wishes of the devotees are fulfilled by praying here, similar to Mantralayam. We reached Pune by 9.30 pm. Mahabaleswar Temple 
Next day, on 7th May, we started at 7 am and went to Baneswar, an ancient Shiva temple. The Outer linga can be removed and below that there are 5 Lingams over which clear water flows eternally. A garden in the vicinity with dense grove surrounding is a regular picnic spot for the busy Punites. We had our heavy sandwich breakfast, courtesy Sri Rao, before proceeding to Wai, a popular Ganesh temple. Ganesha there is very big in size and pleasing. From there we all proceeded to Mahabaleswar located in thick forest of Western Ghats, 120 km from Pune. The journey up was very thrilling on the winding road of mountainous terrain. As we approached Panchaagni, the climate turned cooler and as we reached Mahabaleswar, it was chill. The place got the name due to the ancient temple Mahabaleswar where five streams (Krushna, Koyana, Venna, Savitree & Gayatree) join below the Linga. We prayed Lord Shiva. There is breath taking valley view from there. At one point, the wind direction and pressure at the point above
the valley is such that even when you throw out a one Rupee coin in to the valley, the coin comes back instead of allowing it to fall in to the deep gorge. It is interesting natural phenomenon and children liked it immensely. The Sun set there is marvelous with the colorful twilight lasting much longer than usual after sun set behind the mountain range.
Then we went to Pratapghad Fort which was under control of Chatrapati Shivaji for a long time. The climb is very steep and must have been tough for the enemy forces to reach there. There is famous Bhavani temple in the fort. It has a „Spatika Linga‟ preserved in the temple, which was carried by Shivaji on his person wherever he went. We bought few antique items there, but they were lost in the later part of the journey.
On our way back we ate in a Dabha and returned to IQ by midnight after a flat tire on the way.
Next day, 8th May, we left for Khandala, a well-known summer resort with acclaimed scenic charm. We had our lunch there and left for Lonavala, famous for „chickie‟s . I bought a few, though the chickies we got that day were not up to the reputation. We visited Carla caves- old Buddist caves. It brought back the memories of my earlier trip to that place with colleagues on hired cycles from Lonavala Railway station way back in 1959 when I was working in Pune. On our return we visited Shanivarvada fort – a Peshwa fort with royal residence, in Pune. Construction of Shaniwar Wada began on 10th of January 1730 with Bajirao Peshwa-I laying the foundation by collecting handful of mud from the nearby Lal Mahal. But Shaniwar Wada of today is left with only an imposing outer wall and strong outer doors. Pune Area trip map
We collected our items from Inspection Quarters, thanked Sri Rao and family profusely for their help and moved on to Pune Railway Station to entrain Ahimsa Express to Ahmadabad.
Bewitching West: Phase 2- Gujarat
We reached Ahmadabad by 9.15 am on 9th May. Sri Vijay Purohit, a friend and who worked as Accounts Officer in Hyderabad and recently moved to Ahmadabad, was at the railway station to guide us to the Inspection Quarter, which I reserved earlier. After settling, we discussed the earlier chalked out a plan to see the area. He arranged a taxi for taking us round Ahmadabad, a commercial center and Gandhinagar, the capital to cover all points of interest. We went first to Sabarmati Ashram on the banks of Sabarmati River with serene surroundings. It was from here that Mahatma Gandhi fought major portion of freedom struggle for the country. We could visualize the stalwarts such as Jawaharlal Nehru, Govinda Vallabh Pant, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Morarji Desai, Moulana Abul Kalam Azad etc having heated discussions here during the peak independence struggle and thrilled to be present in the Ashsram, which had witnessed a memorable part of history . It also tells us without anybody elaborating, what simple life Mahatma led. It must have been tough on a hot day there, with soaring heat due to rise in temperaments and arguments, without any cooling infrastructure. Many of his used items are left intentionally in their respective locations neat, giving an impression of his continued living, perhaps with a hope that that his policy of „ahimsa‟ will be followed by future generations.
Next we went to Gandhi Nagar; a well planned and well laid out capital city, 30 km from Ahmadabad. We went to see Akshara Dham, a BAPS temple, an intricately carved majestic monument made of 6,000 tons of pink sandstone, with 32,500 sq.ft of floor area decorated with high tech display of life and preaching of a Bhagawan Swaminarayan. Thus it intends to drive home the present day society,, the need to be good to everyone for a happy and lovable world, as per his doctrine. It has tree mandapams- Hari, Vibhuti & Prasadi. It has three halls of 62,000 sq ft. comprising of Sahajanand where Swaminarayan‟s life and preaching are depicted , Satchitanand where an impressive high tech multimedia exhibition of moving models of scenes from Ramayana & Mahabharata extolling noble principles and developing piety are presented and Nityanand, where a walkthrough dioramas and fiberglass figures extol the messages of Ramayan and Mahabharat and Upanishads. It was a rare pious experience.
Here is a brief story of Swaminarayan:
“Ghanshyam Pande (later known as Swaminarayan) was born in 1781 as in Chhapaiya, Uttar Pradesh. In 1792, he left home to undertake a 7 year pilgrimage across India adopting the name Nilkanth Varni. He settled in Gujarat in 1799 and started preaching his doctrine. The same year, he was initiated into the Uddhav Sampraday by his guru, Ramanand Swami and gave him the name „Sahajanand Swami‟. In 1802, his guru decided to hand over the leadership of the Uddhav Sampraday to him before he died. After Ramamand Swami passed away, Sahajanand Swami held a gathering and spelled out the Swaminarayan Mahamantra. From then onwards he came to be known as Swaminarayan and was believed to be god by his followers. The Uddhav Sampraday henceforth came to be known as the Swaminarayan Sampraday. The Swaminarayan Sampraday is based on Vedic scriptures. He composed Shikshapatri and Vachanamrut and appointed 500 paramhansas to spread his philosophy. It is believed that on the 1st of June, 1830, Swaminarayan gathered all his followers and announced decision to take Samādhi and did so. He was cremated according to hindu rites at Laxmi Wadi in Gadhada.”
Gujarat Area Trip Map
From there we went to Gayatri Temple, a rare temple and later Hanuman temple before returning to Ahmadabad Inspection Quarters. The food prepared by the cook at the IQ was excellent and very satisfying.
Next morning, 10th May, we reached Gujarat Tourism office at 7 am as required, to board a Gujarat Tourism bus on a five day trip of Saurastra Darshan. The bus was very comfortable with 2+2 reclining seats in a row and good leg space. With excellent roads spread all over Gujarat, the drive was very pleasant. The bus stopped at regular intervals at convenient locations for tea and restroom necessities making the trip enjoyable. The guide, Mr. A. R. Mughal made it memorable with anecdotes, jokes and relevant mythological stories. He appeared well read and could reel out relevant statistics about India in general and about Gujarat in particular. He invited participation by the passengers by asking them to narrate their experiences, tell jokes and tell their experiences which made the travel very pleasant. After 465 Km drive from Ahmadabad, we reached Jagat Mandir, Dwaraka by 8 pm, well before the Arati at 8.30 pm. We went round the temple in detail and were ready for Arati. It was a very glittering and pious event, which one would like to cherish for long.
That night we were allotted comfortable independent rooms one for each family at Toran tourist bunglow, a Gujarat tourism Hotel. Next morning, 11th May, we prayed Dwarakadhish again before starting the journey. Then went to Sharada Peeth, one of the Shankara Mutts consecrated by Adi Shankara in all the four corners of the country.
 Jyothirlinga & Nageswaram Temple 
After breakfast, we prayed at Nageswaram, before leaving for Okha Port. We went by ferry to Bed Dwaraka, inside the sea where Lord Krishna waited for killing Jaarasandha. It is understood that the Archeological Department, while continuing the study of various data, arrived at the occurrence of Ramayana around 8000 years ago and Mahabharata about 5000 years ago. The excavated remnants on the shore and under the sea date back to about 5000 years. There is temple for Rukmini here. The legend goes thus: Lord Krishna after marriage of Rukmini in Gandhgarva style, while returning to the capital Dwaraka, met Sage Durvasa on the way who ordained them to take him in their chariot, not driven by horses but by personally by Krishna and Rukmini. They obeyed and while doing so Rukmini gets very much tired and thirsty. Seeing her plight, Krishna stops the chariot and drives an arrow in to the ground when water springs up quenching her thirst. But the sage gets annoyed at stopping of the chariot and cursed them to remain separated for 12 years, which happened in due course. It is interesting that while Dwarakeedhish temple is for Krishna alone, the temple for Rukmini is exclusively for her.
We returned to Dwaraka, had our lunch in the hotel and left for Porbandar also called as Sudhama nagar. Harasiddimata Temple 
On the way we visited Harasiddimata, the Goddess that blesses all devotees to fulfill their desires. It is about 20 km west of Porbandar on the coast. In our group a businessman who had only daughters, prayed during his previous visit for a son and was blessed with a son. He returned to fulfill his vow and thank the Goddess for the favor. He gave us all sweets and a special lussy famous there. The lussy was very tasty, justifying its reputation. The curd prepared in tumbler does not come loose and fall even when placed on a table inverted for quite some time. Balaji & Prabhavati Prayed for her blessing. Harasiddimata
Then we went to “Keerthi Mandir”, the birth place of Mahatma Gandhi. In one of the rooms Gandhiji‟s father drew a picture, 200 years back depicting Ganesha drinking milk. There is a Bharatmata Mandir in Porbandar where a large 3 Dimensional Map of India is placed in a big hall. There are paintings of various important places decorating the walls.
After travelling 185 km that day, we stayed that night in Toran Tourist Bungalow on the ocean side.
On 12th morning, we stated for Veraval and saw Balkathirtha where Lord Krishna ended his mortal life and Avatar, due to the fatal hit of an arrow of Jara on his tow. It was believed that Jara was reincarnation of Vali of Ramayan period. After being hit by an arrow from behind during his fight with Sugreeva, Vali questioned Rama, the reason for attacking from behind as he was neither his enemy nor was he involved in a direct fight with Rama. Rama then replied that he can avenge in the next incarnation. Here Krishna is carved as Vishnu in white marble showing viswaroopa to Jara. We had been to Sangam where His last rites were performed. There is Gita Temple near Sangam where all the slokas of Geethopadesam are inscribed on the marble walls.
Somanath Mandir
Next we went to Somanath temple and reached there by 11.30 am well before the noon Atati. Accoding to
the legend - the Moon (Soma) with his wife Rohini worshipped the deity of the temple, the Sparsha Ling, to free himself from the curse of his father-in-law, Daksha Prajapati. Lord Shiva pleased with his penance restored his light for half of the month. Somanath Ling 
Hence the deity here is known as Someshwar or Somnath, Lord of the moon and the place as Prabhas. Somnath is known as the Shrine Eternal as it has withstood the shocks of time and the attacks of the destroyers starting in 722 AD. It has risen like a phoenix each time when it was vandalized or desecrated. A description of the temple by Al Biruni, an Arab traveler, was so glowing that it prompted a visit in 1025 by a most unwelcome tourist - Mahmud of Ghazni. At that time, the temple was so wealthy that it had 300 musicians, 500 dancing girls and even 300 barbers just to shave the heads of visiting pilgrims. Mahmud of Ghazni, whose raids on the riches of India are legendary, descended on Somnath from his Afghan kingdom and after a two-day-battle, took the town and the temple. Having looted its fabulous wealth, he destroyed it. So, began a pattern of Muslim destruction and Hindu rebuilding that continued for centuries. The temple was again razed in 1297, 1394 and finally in 1706 by Aurangzeb, the notorious Mughal fundamentalist. It was rebuilt in 1951 on the original site. Every time the Linga was resized and consecrated. The present linga is about 2feet in girth and 4.5 feet in height. The temple stands majestically right on seashore. Carved Ceiling 
In the afternoon we went to Sasan Gir and from there to Gir Lion Sanctuary. It is a vast stretch of forest without greenery. We were taken in a van by forest authorities on zig-zag unformed tracks searching for the resting lions in the scorching sun. We could luckily see seven lions that day. We were informed that on some days‟ visitors go back without seeing even one. We went to Junaghad for night halt after travelling 246 Kms.
On the 4th day, (13th May) we saw the Junaghad fort in detail and Darbar Hall filled with all decently carved royal seats embedded with precious stones as if the hall is set for a royal meet. We were shown a rock edict written in Pali language. After lunch at Hotel Girnar, where we stayed previous night, we left for Virpur where Bhakt Jalaram Bava Madir is prominent. The history belongs to recent past where, Bhakt Jalaram was giving away to the guests whatever they want after, they have a sumptuous meal. It appears Lord Shiva wanted to test the Bhakt and came there as a Sanyasi and asked for his wife after the meal. Bhakt Jalaram requested his wife to go with the Sanyasi and stayed back praying. The Sanyasi took her up to the end of the village and gave her his bag and staff and asked her to wait there. Late in the evening, the villagers went to her and informed that the Sanysi before vanishing informed them that the bag will provide unending supply of food grains for distribution of food to the poor. They were pleased and lived happily after that continuing the tradition. Even today the bag and stick are available for display in a glass case though the bag does not yield any food grains. The tradition of providing food for all with Basmati rice and pure ghee continues even today, though on contributions from public. That evening we reached Palitana after travelling 222 Km and stayed at Hotel Sumeru.
Next morning, 14th May at 5.30 we started climbing the Setrunjeya Hills to see the Jain temples at Palitana. There are 863 marble and red sand stone temples spread on the hill top at the height of 2000 meters. We had to climb 4000 marble topped steps (to make the climb easier in summer), intermittently going up on the walk way. We reached the top by 10.30 am. The temples are of varying sizes. Adi Natha, the first Theerthankar is consecrated there. It is customary for every Jain to visit Palitana and Adinatha at least once in a life time. We saw some young cheerful Jain devotees jumping and climbing without showing any signs of fatigue. My wife had difficulty climbing up where as my knee troubled while climbing down. When we came down at the end of steps, we were guided to a place where very rich food was being served free. It was being served by a Jain family. Only the host‟s family members were allowed to serve and not any relative or friend. The condition is that the guest can eat there as much as he can, but cannot waste or take it out. It appears that every day one family takes responsibility to serve food free to all the devotees who go up and pray Adi Nath and return. The cost per day was Rs. 1 Lac in 1996 and we were informed that all the days were booked for the next one year.
Palitana View  Adinath Mandir 
On our way back we saw Damodar Kund, a sacred bathing tank located at the foot of Girnar Hill. The specialty of the lake, we were informed, is that even the bones thrown in to it get dissolved and the chemical analysis of the liquid showed that it is just water or H² O; unbelievable! Damodar Kund is believed to be the place where Goddess Parvati‟s garment fell during an aerial cruise with Lord Shiva. Damodarji Temple is situated to the north of Damodar Kund. There are beautifully carved ancient Jain temples of Girnar near Revati Kund.
From there we were taken to Lothal (A dead city) of Mohanjodaro and Harappan civilization era. The excavations reveal the broad layout plan of the city, their water ways, and their navigational methods among other features. One can spend lot of time studying as it was revealing and educative, but we had to rush as time was short. We travelled 248 Km in the final lap to reach Ahmadabad at 8 pm. One surprising fact is that there is not much greenery in the Saurashtra area, perhaps due to sandy soil with higher levels of salinity. There was plenty of “thumma” variety of thorny trees.
The 1500 km trip gave us a great satisfaction, though it physically strained us to certain extent. We thanked Mr. Mughal for guiding us through the wonderful trip with his vast experience. We reached IQ by 8.30 pm. We were in no mood to do anything other than lying flat on the bed with the AC turned on. But suddenly Vijaya remembered that Arati was due for delivery one of those days and we wanted to know the happy news. Kiran jumped to make a quick call to my Mother-In-Law to know whether any information came from USA. She informed that Arati delivered a boy on 11th and named Sagar Ramagopal and both are fine. We were very happy and excited as he is our first grandchild. We immediately contacted Arati on phone, and were happy to talk to her and know the details of her health and Sagar‟s. After hearing the news we were fully charged with enthusiasm and with the fatigue evaporating, ready to face the next day‟s trip to Mt. Abu, which we were earlier reluctant to consider.
Bewitching West: Phase 3- Rajastan & Delhi
Being very familiar with the topography, Sri Vijay Purohit finalized our further program to Mt. Abu and fixed a taxi to take us there. Perhaps, he cautioned the driver not to go fast, the driver was driving around 40 km speed even when the road ahead was clear and the traffic was not high. When Kiran insisted on going faster, he could readily show us a roadside accident discouraging further discussion. He took us to Beth Raj Ji by 10.30 am and Rajastan Boarder by 4.30 pm. Worried about the time management, we switched to a jeep at the Rajastan border and on contrast, its driver drove at dangerously high speed, as if with vengeance, scaring us a bit. Soon we knew that he was a very experienced driver and could manage to take us round all important places in the area just in time.
The Jain Dilwara temple, dedicated to 1st Jain Theerthankara and built between 800 AD and 1200 AD, in Aravalli Range, is marvelous. From outside one can never imagine the existence of such a grand temple till you enter the complex. The delicate marble carvings are exquisite and beyond normal person’s expectations. The carvings are superb revealing the masterly skill set of the artisans. Located in the same complex, another Jain temple built 200 years later was equally grand and memorable. We very much wanted to preserve the memories of most of the carvings by taking a good number of photos, but unfortunately, those film reels were lost during the later part of our journey. In such cool and pleasant surroundings spending time in a lavish artistic splendor takes us to zenith in exquisite experience and given an opportunity, one would like to go through again and again. We wished we had more time to spend there.
City Palace in night lights 
Thanks to the Jeep driver, we did not miss any part of the planned visit of that area. He brought us back to the Gujarat border by 9.00 pm. We drove back at the same 40 km speed and reached IQ by 3 am next morning i.e., 16th May.
We almost took rest that day and in the evening we went for shopping, bought few dresses, which however were also lost in the later part of the journey.
That night we took Udaipur Express train and reached Udaipur on 17th morning at 8.30. We completed our routines remaining in the 1st class waiting room as we were planning to leave that night itself to New Delhi. We had an idea to see Nathdwara, but we were told that it is 40 Km away and there is Eklingji temple on the way, which we
cannot afford to miss. If we cover both we may not be able to see Udaipur in detail before the train time. We opted to stay with sightseeing of Udaipur alone. At the end the day, we felt we took the right decision as we could barely make it to the train time. Beautiful peacock mosaic in City Palace
Udaipur Lake Palace
The Palace where Maharanas lived at one time is exuberant and memorable. There are many valuable articles of interest. The splendor is great. In the rear portion of the palace where the present generation is continuing to live, is not accessible. In the adjoining lake there is another palace which is converted as a luxury Hotel. There is a statue of Chetak, a screwed female horse of Arabian breed of Maharana Pratap in the compound. In one of the bitter wars fought, the horse took fainted Rana to a safe place across the river limping with a badly injured leg. The heroic horse died after making over Maharana to his men.
We left that night by Chetak Express to Delhi. We reached Sarai Rohalla (Delhi) by 3 pm on 18th May.
 Kiran before Maharana Pratap on Chetak Statue
After settling in Karolbagh Inspection Quarters we went to Birla Mandir. Next day we went to Kutub Minar, Palika Bazaar, Jantar Mantar, various State Emporia, Kamal Mandir- a Bahai Center and Chatrapur group of temples.
Bahai Temple or Lotus temple is on Kalkaji Hill top in the village of Bahapur. It is a great place for meditation. The architect of the temple was Fariborz Sahba, an Iranian, who now lives in Canada. Committed to the oneness of all religions and mankind, it traces its origins to its prophet Baha'u'llah, born in Persia in the 20th century. Bahá'í culture does not allow any pictures, statues or images be displayed within the House of Worship and no pulpits or altars be incorporated as an architectural feature (readers may stand behind simple portable lecture stands). The nine doors of the Lotus Temple open onto a central hall, capable of holding about 2,500 people. The central hall is slightly more than 40 meters tall and its surface is made of white marble. The walkways represent the nine unifying spiritual paths of the Baha'i faith. Exquisitely manicured lawns surround the building of the Lotus Temple. Silence is a prerequisite inside Lotus Temple. Also, one needs to take off the shoes while entering inside as is prescribed in any temple. The House of Worship, along with the nine surrounding ponds and the gardens around comprise 26 acres. Chhatarpur Temple located On Gurgaon-Mehrauli Road, in South Delhi Qutub Minar and Ashoka Pillar was built by Swami Nagpal Maharaj, who was a great devotee of Goddess Chatrapur Durga Temple
Durga . Erected in white marble, the main shrine is dedicated to
Goddess Katyayani (a form of Durga). The structure of this temple gives the tint of South Indian style of architecture. In the temple complex, there are beautiful gardens and lawns that leave a soothing impact on the souls of the devotees. The carvings of this temple are really worth admiring. The massive size of the temple complex creates a feeling of awe. Here, two forms of Goddess Durga are commemorated. One shrine is dedicated to Maha Gauri (form of Durga), which is opened for 'darshan' every day. Another shrine is dedicated to Goddess Katyayani, whose 'darshan' can be availed only on 'ashtami' day in every month. The 'darshan' of Goddess Katyayani can also be had all through the days of 'Navratri'. The golden image of Katyayani attracts many devotees across the country with its size and divinity.
 Lal Quilla Jantar Mantar 
Evening we went to visit Madhavi in Lajapatnagar and spent about an hour with her. She was very happy with her job and life in general. That day Rohit was away on tour, so we could not meet him. Next day, 20th May, we visited Lal khilla , and Chandini Chowk and left for Delhi station after picking up items from IQ. We got in to the Mussori Express for Hardwar.
Himalayan Splendor- Phase -4 We reached Hardwar, known as gateway to Heaven, by morning 6.30 and went straight the IQ which was right across the station. When we were ready, we went to Gaughat, and had refreshing bath in cool and fast flowing Ganga River. After breakfast, we engaged a taxi and went round Rishikesh covering places of interest such as Lakshman Jhoola, Ram Jhoola, Swarga Ashram and Geetha Bhavan. Before returning to Hardwar we got the confirmation from officials at Ghadwal Mandal Vikas Nigam Ltd (who arranged cab and guide for our trip to Badrinath & Kedarnath), that cab will pick us up at the IQ next morning at 7 am on 22nd May. On our return to Hardwar we saw Vaishnovidevi temple ( a replica of original temple in Jammu), Bharatmata Temple, Sapta Rishi Ashram, Pawan Mandir where several mythological scenes are created in glass and placed between parallel mirrors to give an impressive multiple images. We reached by 7pm Har-ki-pauri to see Ganga Harati. We all gave Harati to Ganga and returned to IQ.
The cab came promptly at 6.45 am and the driver Sri Purushottam Datt Senwal is proved to be an expert in the area of the difficult terrain, which we could appreciate as we continued with our journey. We were five (myself, Vijaya, Kiran, Balaji & Prabhavathi) the cab was big enough for us and the journey was comfortable. We started around 7.30 am and went via Rishikesh to Devaprayag. On the way we had tea at Kaudilya. The mountainous climb starts immediately after Rishikesh and continues almost the entire journey. After a 93 km drive we reached Deoprayag, a confluence of Alakananda & Bhagirathi. Alakananda commences its course at Badrinath where as Bagirathi commences at Gaumukh and passes via Gangotri. Water of Alakananda is brownish and muddy where as water of Bagirathi is clear. From the road level the confluence is about 400 to 500 feet below and the climb down is steep. The flow of Alakananda is turbulent and rapid due to steep fall from the start. From Deoprayag we travelled 35 km to Srinagar and another 35 km to Rudraprayag.
 Rudraprayag confluence
Rudraprayag is a confluence of Alakananda and Mandakini. (Mandakini‟s water is clear). We went further to Tilwara, Agastamuni, Kund, to Gupta kasi- a 40 Km drive.
As per the legend, Pandavas after Kurukhetra war, felt sad as they killed their cousins, teachers and other near and dear in Kurukshetra War and wanted to cleanse their sins. They were advised that Lord Shiva alone can do it. Having come to know that Lord Shiva is in Kasi in the Himalayan region, (Gupta Kasi) they went there to find that He already left that place with no trace as He was unwilling to help them. When they saw lot of cows moving in an uphill area, they presumed that Lord Shiva must be around. Bhima kept his legs between two hillocks allowing them to pass below, while most of them passed one avoided. They assumed that it must be Lord Shiva and started praying. The Lord in the form of bull started sinking in to the ground and Bhima while trying to restrain with all his might the sinking of the bull, could hold only His hump Nupuram above the earth. Hence Kedar Linga appears in the form of Hump (Nupuram) of Bull. After their sincere prayers Lord Shiva was pleased and blessed Pandavas cleansing their sins. The place where Lord remained hidden is called Guptakasi and the place where the bull sank is Kedar.
Himalayan Splendor
Sone Prayag is 26 km from Guptakasi where Mandakini joins Sone Ganga. Gaurikund is 5 km from Sone Prayag. We travelled that day a total of 210 km on a winding road with deep gorges on one side and high mountains with occasional touch of white snow at the top, on the other. The quick changing panoramic scenes were appealing and provided feast to the eyes. The road was awfully a narrow single lane road with two ways traffic, demanding high alertness and skill from the driver and making our hearts miss a beat when we see a vehicle in the opposite direction at a blind turn and there were many of them. At many a place small and medium sized waterfalls and rivulets occasionally freezing cross, our path uprooting the rubble that made up for the road, making the drive more risky. We are informed that the rivulets keep changing their course frequently making the long term plans for repair of the road by the maintenance difficult.
We had a night halt at Gaurikund-2000 meters above MSL in GMVN guest House. It was very cold there and we were not prepared for that and needed warmer clothing, which was provided by GMVN. They also made, as part of the deal, other arrangements for our trip to Kedarnath such as fixing an exclusive guide and ponies. The guide was a helpful young man and stayed throughout with us.
Satellite view of Kedarnath & Badarinath area in mid-summer
Next morning, 23rd May, we had our bath in the hot spring of Gaurikund and prayed at Gauri temple before proceeding on ponies to Kedarnath. Kiran volunteered to climb up. Being an artist, he wanted to enjoy every dynamically changing scene of beauty and capture and preserve them in his mind as well as on film. The pony ride was not easy for us on a narrow rubble and slippery path dotted with frozen streams. The stones are smoothened by the continuous brushing by the metal hoofs of the ponies carrying tourists and roll dangerously when the pony misses a firm landing of its foot scaring the rider. It is further accentuated with the down moving ponies trying to balance and push the up going ones to the other side of the narrow path whose blurred slippery edge suddenly vanishes in to the deep gorge below. Yet, thanks to Lord Kedareswara and the maneuvering skills of the ponies, it is surprising that there are not many accidents of the ponies and tourists fatally slipping in to the valley. There are four short breaks designed between Gaurikund and Kedarnath for the ponies to drink water and take some fodder before proceeding for the next lap, at the same time give some time for the riders and guides to sip a cup of hot tea to warm up in the chill weather.
From Rambara the climate turns chiller dramatically with a drizzle. With the increase in elevation, oxygen becomes scarce, which made Vijaya very uncomfortable. Though we were warned in Gaurikund about the possibility and advised to carry oxygen cylinders, we ignored them partly with over confidence and partly due to lack of experience in climbing high altitudes.
The path is riskier from here and as such nobody is allowed after sunset beyond Rambara. We reached Kedarnath by 4.30 pm with my wife Vijaya feeling pain in the chest. She had a painful slow walk to the cottage where we were accommodated and after reaching there she went straight under two blankets and a quilt. We waited for Kiran to reach by walk at the cottage. When he reached, he was shivering with frozen sweat drops on his forehead in spite of the jacket. The photos he took fondly of the sceneries including some playing in snow were lost along with our box in Rishikesh on our return trip.
Kedarnath Mandir 
After relaxing a bit we started off to the temple where arati was scheduled at 7 pm. At 11,500 ft above MSL with reduced oxygen in the air, we found even the slow walk was difficult. Vijaya had chest pain again but managed with deep breathing and slower walking. In the temple premises there were heaps of snow all around leaving only a narrow path for „pradakshina‟s.
We had a leisurely darshan and could pray peacefully. The Kedarnath temple enshrining the Jyotirlinga of Lord Shiva remains open only for 6 months in a year from April, when the sun enters the zodiac sign of Aries till November when the sun enters Scorpio. When the temple is closed, the priests stay in Ukhimath with Utsava murthys and daily worship of Kedareshwara continues till the end of winter season. The Shivalingam is seen in a depression on the floor of the sanctum. Water constantly oozes out from the top of the Shivalingam. Usually, the Shivalingam is covered with a silver mask, but on festive occasions a golden mask with five faces, each with a golden crown covers it.
While returning to the cottage we saw an almost naked Yogi with just a loin cloth, standing on one foot with his hands lifted up doing namaskar and praying Lord Shiva motionless. He must have disciplined and conditioned his body to brave the climate to be able to peacefully pray, when we were shivering under multiple layers of warm clothing.
 Kedarnath Ling
Next morning, (24th, May) we had a costly warm (supposed to be boiling hot) water bath at Rs. 15/- per bucket and got ready for another trip to the temple. We collected water from Rethi Kund, at the center of a glacier near our cottage for Abhishekam of Lord Shiva.
The speciality of Rethi Kund is that water bubbles up when some body says OM only. Surprisingly, as long as we keep uttering OM the water come up with buubles and stops when stopped. We had to wait beyond the inner temple in a queue for darshan as the line was long. Coir was carpet provided on the granite path in the temple premises to provide warm comfort to the pilgrims‟ bare feet in the area surrounded by heaps of snow. The mat we were standing on was dry as the temperature was still far below the melting point of ice. Standing in the line we could recite our prayers to Lord Shiva. We felt happy and lucky to have prayed Kedar Jyothirlinga. After that, we went to Sankaracharya‟s samadhi. It is said that he used to pray Badari Narayana daily at Badrinath, by trecking from Kedarnath crossing the snow covered Himalayan moutain ranges and retun to Kedar. The journey by road on a circuitous route takes almost 15 hours. We left Kedarnath at 10.30 am for Gourikund. The pony ride down the hill appeared more risky as the pony‟s feet with metal hoofs were skidding more than while climbing up. My pony skidded and fell on its front feet, luckily on the path itself and the pony‟s guide was ready to help us both. We both escaped with small bruises. Though my wife and Balaji were more scared, they managed the return trip with out any incident. We asked Kiran also to accompany us as we had a long jouney ahead and time was limited. At 2 pm we started for Chopta via Sone Prayag, Phata, Nala, Guptakasi, Kund & Ukimutt. The 5 ½ hour 80 km trip was great, particularly between Ukhimutt and chopta in cool and plasant climate of thick forests. The mountainous terrain was filled with faint unfamiliar fragrance, which was a pleasant experience. The road was norrow making the drive slow. We reached Chopta by 7.45 pm. We stayed there for the night.
Next morning, 25 th, May we started at 8 am from Chopta to Badrinath via Mandal, Gopeswar (forest lasted up to this place), Chamoli, Pipalkoti, Helang, Joshimutt and Govinda Ghat. Between Joshimutt and Badrinath there was restricted traffic flow with the vehicles going in one direction at a time for two hours and allowing vehicles in the opposite direction for next two hours. We had to wait in line till our turn to move ahead. We reached Badrinath at 4.30 pm and attended arati at 7 pm. We could recite Vishnusahasranama stotram in the main temple and had a very tranquil and pious evening giving us a spiritual elevation. The statue of main deity, Narayana is a dark sky blue color Saligramam, small in size. On the right side of Narayana, we can see the statue of Narada and on the left side Nara, Narayan together. There is a laughing Kubera also. It appears there are Bhagavan's charana padukalu & Sudarshan chakram placed in front of the Saligrama Narayana roopam covered by silver leaves. Badarinath Mandir
Mahalakshmi (refered to as Aravindavalli in the Sri Vaishnava tradition) has a sanctum in the prakaram . The original temple here is believed to be built by King Pururava and the icon of the Lord carved by Vishwakarma.
In Badri Mahaatmiya, it is said that there was a demon by name Sahasra bahu, who after a long penance obtained boons from Lord Surya and started teasing all. When Lord Vishnu decided to end the menace took up penance. He knew that performing tapa for one day in Badari area is equal to performing tapa elsewhere for 10,000 years due to the sanctity of the place, started tapa in „padmaasana‟ there. As Naaraayana sat for a long time, Godess Lakshmi unable to see her husband getting drenched in snow and rain, spread herself like Jujube tree (badri tree or Regi Chettu in Telugu) to provide shelter for Him.
As the evening approached the kavachakundalams of Sahsra Bahu vanished one by one removing his protective armor. He ran to Lord Surya for help who pleaded helpless. Thus the demon could be contained, though not killed. It is said that he was reborn as Karna with one set of Kavachakundalas and was eventually killed by Nara during Mahabharata war. Hence the idols of Nara & Narayana are placed in the temple. Narayana is worshipped as “Badrinaaraayanan” and the place is called “Badrikaashramam”. Lakshmi is known as Badri and Naraayanaa is also known as Visal. The deity is a rare“Salagrama”. It is understood that the shrine was converted into a Buddhist temple under the influence of Emperor Ashok, 274-232 BC, and the idol of Vishnu was tossed into the Narada Kund. Adi Sankara with his Spiritual powers could visualize the presence of the Salagrama moorty in Naradakund and recovered it and installed the Salagrama moorty (Badrinarayana moorty) at the Garuda shila near the Taptakund (Hot water spring). Hence, Badri area is known as Naradeeyashektram also. The epic Mahabharatha is believed to be composed by Sage Vyasa in Ganesha cave close by.
Badrinath is about 10,350 ft above mean sea level. It was not that cold in Badrinath as it was in Kedarnath. Like Kedarnath, Badarinath temple too is closed in peak winter and the Utsavamurthys are moved to Narasimhaswamy temple in Joshimutt for daily pooja. Akhanda Jyothi (glowing with cow ghee) is kept glowing even during the six month period when daily poojas are not performed in Badarinath. When the tepmle is reopened, many devotees crave to have darshan of the Jyoti and the Lord along with the temple preists. Badari Narayana & Lakshmi
Next morning we took bath in Tapta Kund where the water is almost at boiling point (it is lower at that height than normal), yet we do not feel the intensity of heat as it cools down immediately . We performed „pitru karmas‟ at Brahma Kapalam, a place close to the temple on the banks of Alakananda. It is believed that performing pitru karmas and giving „tarpanam‟ there will help the departed „atma‟s attain salvation. We were informed by the learned Pandit that those who offered „pinda pradanam‟ and given „tarpanam‟ at Brahmakapalam should not perform normal yearly reverential ceremonies for the same elders as it amounts to inviting them back for taking a rebirth. We gave “pinda pradanam” and „tarpanam‟ for my parents, sisterLakshmi, grand parents,father‟s elder brother, maternal uncle and close elders and at the end gave for ourselves, which is permitted. Earlier we performed similar rituals for departed souls in Gaya too.
We had another darshan of Badari Narayana before leaving the place.
 Kalpa Vriksha and the Linga Shankara did penance here near Joshimutt and used to take rest in a cave near this place.
Sunset view from Auli hill top 
From Badrinath, we drove down to Joshimutt where we saw Kalpavriksha (a Mulberry tree, the trunk resembling Ganesha) under which Adi Shankara performed tapa at the age of 11. After 5 years of tapas, it is said that he saw vision and a Linga emanated from brilliant jyothi. Both are available there with scant upkeep. We spent about an hour before proceding to Auli , a 14 km drive to the hill top. It is connected by ropeway also but the operational frequency was low except in winterwhen it will be better for the convenience of skiers. We continued on a narrow dusty ill formed road that was just being developed by GMVL to access Auli. We reached Auli before sunset. On the way we saw at a distance „chamarimriga‟ whose tail is used for fanning the deities in the temples. Though we could not see Kasturi but could notice fragrance in the air while climbing up. From Auli we took a rope way to the top of the mountain which is generally used by the skiers in the peak winter.
 Glow of Mt.Nanda Devi in the morning light and in clouds 
The scenic beauty was gorgeous; the snow peaks were gleamimg with the twilight of the setting sun from behind the mountain ranges. Slowly, fog spreading over the peaks was dimming the hill tops leaving a mystic awe in the viewrs. We returned after spending some time there. At an altitude of 2,500-3,050 metres above sea level, Auli's well-dressed slopes are flanked by coniferous and oak forests and offer a panoramic view of Mt. Nanda Devi, Mana Parbat, Dunagriri, Beethartoli, Nilkanth, Hathi Parbat and Ghouri Parbat. There were no hotels in Auli (it seems that area is now well developed) and GMVL placed fiber glass huts with necessary amenities and we were provided accommodation in one of the huts. They were comfortable. We had our early dinner and slept.
Next morning (27th May) we got up early before sun rise and were stupefied by the mere beauty of the sunrise behind the snow peaked mountains with their caps glittering marvelously with diffracted orange beams of sun light. As the sun rose, the white patches of glaciers shone brightly appearing as studded ornaments. Fog curtained away blurring the valley view below making us feel as if we were floating high in the sky. As the sun advanced, the mystic fog started melting away exposing oak, coniferous and mighty Himalayan Deodar trees on the sloping edges,
exploding the Himalayan splendor in the flood of sun rays. The glaciers stood out as white beauty spots on a wrinkled carpet of multiple shades of green. Oh! It was sight worth the trip we all felt.
I, Vijaya & Prabhavati on the top of the hill in Auli. Extreme right is Mt Nanda Devi. We started from Auli still doused in the lingering experience of beauty and drove through the forest range, to Pipalkoti, where we had our breakfast of Idli, Vada & Dosa. We left for Rishikeash via Chamoli, Nanda Prayag (where Mandakini meets Alakananda), Karnaprayag (where Pindari meets Alakananda), Rudraprayag(confluence of Alakananda & Mandakini), Srinagar, Maletha, and Deoprayag. We left the cab after thanking our guide/driver Purushottam.
After rest that night at IQ, next morning we went to Manasa Devi temple at Hardwar located on the top of a hill. Balaji too came on the ropeway for the first time, (he refused to go in it in Auli) yet was thrilled by the experience. There was good crowd.
Next morning 29th May, we were to leave by Ujjain Express leaving Hardwar at 6.48 am. Though we were on time, we could not leave, as we lost one Safari box while unloading the boxes from rickshaw engaged for carrying them for about 100 yards across the street. Our efforts to get hold of the rickshaw and the box failed utterly. We gave a police complaint at the Railway station knowing pretty well that such efforts are futile and waste of time. We left by the next available train: Dehradun-Mumbai Express at 1.30 pm.
The last lap: Phase -5
We reached Mathra Jn. by 1.30 am on 30th May and dozed off in the waiting room as we could not get any retiring rooms. In the morning we started in a taxi after freshening up to Dwarakadish Temple & Krishna‟s birth place. Later we went to Brindavan via Gokulam. At Brindavanam we prayed at Krhishna Temple where Sirla Prabhupada spent many years translating Srimadbhagavatam. We also prayed at Ranganatha temple. Saw Kalindi Lake where Lord Krishna supposed to have tamed a ferocious rogue serpent and danced on its hood, but now there is not enough water in it. We could not go and see Goverdhana Giri, which Lord Krishna supposed to have lifted with his little
finger, for want of time as it is 21 km away. We went to Yamuna river banks which were glorified with play, music & dance of Krishna, Radha & innumerable Gopikas, which formed the theme of many songs and literature. Here also the scene was most ordinary and we were not able to link it with our impression left after reading the books.
After that we went to ISKON Temple, which was well maintained and impressive. Among other important temples at Mathura and Vrindavan are Govind Dev Temple, Rangaji Temple, Dwarkadhish Temple, Keshav Deo Temple, Bankey Bihari Temple and the ISKON temple. Gokul, Barsana and Goverdhan are other townships associated with the lord. Krishna was brought up in Gokul, while His consort, Radha, hailed from Barsana. Goverdhan is the place, where Krishna raised a mighty mountain on his little finger, to protect locals from the wrath of Indra. The Government Museum here is a superb repository of fine sculpture, terra-cotta images, coins and bronze objects that date back to 5th century B.C to the 12th century A.D.There were many foreign tourists flocking there. By evening we reached Agra by train and went straight to Inspection Quarters.
Next morning (31st May) we visited Sikandera where mortal remains of Great Emperor Akbar were laid to rest. We also visited Radhasaomy Temple at Dayalbagh, 
a temple under construction to my knowledge, for the past half century, perhaps for want of constant flow of money and materials. Last time when we visited in late 70s, Ground floor was complete and now work is going on in second floor. The artisans are doing a splendid job and temple is shaping up very well.
I only wonder how far the pollution from Mathra refinery will affect this, as it is already damaging centuries old monument, Taj Mahal. Being a world heritage, with the reputation of one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Governmental help will be coming forth to save it from discolorations and eventual crumbling, but can such a help be expected for a privately built and managed temple belonging to one cult? Future can only answer. In the afternoon, we went Agra Fort and after that went to Taj Mahal.
I felt that Taj has lost its luster to some extent as different colors showed up on the marble surface giving a mosaic appearance, whereas at one time, not long ago, it looked clear marble clear white and impressive. I still recollect my fond memories of late 70 s when we took a trip to Taj Mahal on a full moon night when we were very pleased with the impressive moon shine on spotless white marble. May be I am imagining or the earlier impression is shadowing the present view due to my reading many media reports on the affects of the refinery on the Taj. Back in the Inspection Quarters we ate our wonderful dinner prepared by the cook attached to IQ, thanked him for very tasty food served during our stay there and started for Agra Cantonment Railway station to catch Dakshin Express.
We reached Hyderabad on 2nd June, 1996, light with high spirits and heavy with body aches due to tiresome travel. Thanks to the Department of Telecommunications, we had two suites of air conditioned Inspection Quarters wherever we visited, which made our stay worry free and comfortable. Thus we had a splendid trip with meticulous planning and cooperation of all the members. We all enjoyed the trip immensely and a young budding artist in Kiran with bubbling enthusiasm must have enjoyed better.