Tuesday, 29 March 2016

A trip to Ahobilam

Malola Narasimha Temple, Ahobilam
Ahobilam is my first exclusive pilgrimage tour. What I expected to be just a spiritual experience was rewarding in more ways than one. The specialty of Ahobilam is the nine Narasimha swamy temples, each having a place in the story of the Lord incarnating as the simha avatara to kill the demon Hiranyakashipu, in order to save Prahlad maharaja, who was a devout Vishnu devotee.

Of the 9 temples, 3 are in the forest on the Nallamala hill ranges. They were all reachable by a 3 hour long steep trek.

Kroda Narasimha Temple, Ahobilam
The first temple on the trek is the Kroda Narasimha temple. Here the Lord is in the varaha (boar) form and is said to have dug deep into the earth to bring back an unhappy Lashmi Devi. She was upset over the Lord's interest in a local Chenchu tribal girl (even though the Chenchu girl herself was an avatara of the Goddess!). Due to this legend, Chenchu tribes are closely associated with the temple traditions in Ahobilam.

Trek to Jwala Narasimha Temple, Ahobilam
The highest temple is of Jwala Narasimha situated at the spot where the Lord killed the demon by splitting open his stomach. Nearby, there is a very tall cliff shaped like a pillar called the Ughra sthamba believed to be the pillar from which the Lord emerged. The rathakunda, a small pond near the temple had little water when we travelled. It is meant to be the one where the Lord washed his hands and is still tinged red! The temple itself is a small cave with a priest.

Jwala Narasimha Deity, Ahobilam
From there, we trekked down to the shrine of Malola Narasimha. Here the Lord is said to be in Soumya form with Lashmi Devi on his lap.

On the way to lower Ahobilam, the temples of Ahobila narasimha (where the Lord is said to be at his fiercest and is the oldest of the 9 temples), Karanja Narasimha (where Narasimha is installed under a Karanja tree), Chatravata Narasimha (Narasimha under a peepal tree looking like an umbrella) and Yogananda Narasimha (where the Lord is said to have taught Prahalada maharaj yogic postures) were covered by us.

Route to Malola Narasimha Temple, Ahobilam

The trek down was not as challenging naturally as the trek up, but several devotees without slippers struggled as the rocks were extremely hot. The intermittent springs gave us respite from the hot sun. The small ponds had huge shoals of sucker fish which even gave us all amazing fish pedicures, the likes of which would easily cost Rs 1000 in a city salon! Overall the day was a good mix of spirituality and physical exercise. We got to sing some bajans and hear excerpts from popular legend about the Simha incarnation of the Lord.

Trek to Pavana Narasimha Temple, Ahobilam
Pavana Narasimha Temple, Ahobilam
The next day was cut out to be extra trying as the trek started with some 800 odd steep stairs followed by a forest trek. We started at 5:30am after coffee at a local shop and reached the temple at 8:30am. My legs hated me for the stairs, but it was all worth it as the Pavana Narasimha temple(on the banks of the Pavana river) was in a beautiful forest setting. The local Chenchu family was busy decorating and cleaning the surroundings getting it ready for the day's supply of pilgrims. The Lord was beautifully done up and we each got a cup of refreshing "Panakam" (A drink made of jaggery water), which is supposed to be the Lord's favourite too.

The last two temple visits were to the Barghava Narasimha (where Rama performed penance as Bargava) and Prahlada Narasimha in Lower Ahobilam. The Lower Ahobilam temple was constructed by the Vijayanagar rulers and hence has several pillared mandapas leading to the temple. By this time the sun was hitting down on us pretty strongly and was draining us physically. The trip had officially come to an end.

Place of Stay, Krishnadeve Raya Guest House, Ahobilam
Thirumangai Alwar has described Ahobilam as hard to reach except for the Gods. Now however, with some strenuous trekking, the beauty of the small, dry and dusty village and of the 9 shrines is something that everyone is able to experience.

P.S. I went with family, me, my cousin and our mummies. We are all in the same wavelength when it comes to jokes and whatnot, it was just super fun with a lot of giggling and name calling!

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Wild Atlantic Way - Ireland

Gaelic signboard
My 4 day long trip to Ireland can be called unusual in a number of ways. February is less than ideal to tour Ireland, owing to the winter cold accompanied by pouring rains. Add to the mix a raging storm and you have all the makings of an adventure holiday in your hands! Temperature-wise it was not freezing, but it was definitely winter coat weather. From London Stanstead we took a Ryan Air flight to Shanon airport. From there our trusty hire car took us all along the Atlantic coast for a full 4 day holiday. 

Ballinskelligs Castle
Ring of Kerry, our first stop was breathtaking to say the least. We first embarked upon a beautifully still beach at low tide, complete with the Ballinskelligs castle ruin in the background. What is an Irish holiday without a rainbow, we were blessed with two! The beach itself was a nondescript location, as there was no one but us. From there we drove to our accommodation, the Tig An Rinse bread and breakfast at Dungeagan for the night. All along, the views were so beautiful, we kept pulling over to take tonnes of pictures.

View along the Ring of Kerry drive
The cottage was better than perfect. Rooms were very clean and superbly cosy and the breakfast was sumptuous. All through the night a storm was building up which gave us the jitters about how much we were going to be able to see the next day. True to weather reports, a yellow warning to be potentially updated to amber (higher storm alert) was issued. We later found out that the extra-tropical cyclone had been named Imogen. 

Killarney castle
The second day, we again drove along the west coast soaking in more views. On the way to our second cottage, we drove into Killarney, to visit the castle. By now the weather had gotten super crazy, the wind was very strong and rain kept lashing in intervals. But we persevered. However several of our plans had to be dropped, such as a visit to the Dingle bay to see the dolphins, due to ferry services everywhere being cancelled.

A beautiful driving route
We drove further north to our accommodation for the night,. The entire way was pitch dark with not a street lamp in sight. We kept going in circles unable to spot the cottage and even the owner of the place was unsure how to lead us from where we were! I still remember him saying on the phone "Past 7pm, it is very difficult to find the cottage, it is up a steep cliff". After help from some locals, we reached the cottage, there was no light but for the car lamps. Getting off of the car was a task in itself as the wind would not let us open the car door. It was all rather spooky. 

The night was spent worrying about whether the roof would stay intact at all! Come morning it indeed was. We were invited to the most breathtaking views from the kitchen. The house was right on the edge of a cliff with endless views of the ocean! It was quite surreal, seeing the ocean churning huge wave one after another, tens of Irish cows busy grazing, giving a hoot about the storm.

Home during the storm
Irish cows
The day was again spent driving along the coast. What shocked us was the condition of some of the beaches we had visited the previous day, an entire car park was strewn with huge boulders overnight.On the way a huge wave reached over the cliff and splashed our car scary, it was atleast a 30 feet high cliff, the notoriety of the wave became apparent. 

A number of attractions were closed on account of the weather. The cliff of moher ferry service was off, so we saw the cliffs from the view point and could not walk close by. One of us was even pushed into a wall by the wind! 

Cliff of Moher
Overall we did not do a lot of the touristy things one is meant to do in Ireland. But I truly got the experience of a lifetime, seeing the Atlantic from close quarters in the middle of a storm. The entire experience was surreal and I definitely plan to visit Ireland when it is more sunny to see the country's beauty in calmer weather.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Weekend in Paris!

Living in London makes a weekend trip to Paris almost inevitable. And if it is a bank holiday weekend, Paris seems like the ultimate destination. It is that city, which from London, you can reach sooner than reaching Lake district and gives you the feeling of having gone to a glamorous foreign country. We booked tickets a month in advance and that gave me enough time to build up my excitement as I kept reading blogs and books on Paris tourism. We reached on a Friday night and had three full days in the city. One of the best parts of the trip was the flight. It was from City airport which saved us the hassle of travelling to Heathrow which would have been more than the flight time itself. City airport is an absolute no-nonsense airport, where you do only the things that you must do to eventually get on a plane. From the flight I got a bird's eye view of the Eiffel tower all lit up. It was just so fabulous and magical!

We stayed at the All Seasons hotel near a metro rail station called Gabriel Peri. We took the RER from the airport and then changed to the metro. There was a really long walk to the hotel from Gabriel Peri and made me weep at the thought of having to walk that much twice everyday, but to our greatest relief we found a train station much closer to the hotel, Asnieres-Sein-Sur. This was more like a national rail stop and had fast trains connecting to all the major metro stops. We bought a bundle of 12 tickets to travel back n forth and that lasted the two of us almost the entire trip. 

After a good nights sleep, we started off to collect tickets at the Louvre. After a bit of struggle trying to remember my credit card number (Yes I forgot to carry my credit card!), we managed to collect the tickets from the Virgin megastore right next to the Louvre and entered the museum. The crowd was not bad at all and we got ample time for photographs or to read the various descriptions. To be completely honest, I did not enjoy the sculpture section of the museum that much. But the paintings section was brilliant. Each painting was a masterpiece and the scale of some of them for example the last supper was mind blowing. Some of the ceiling arts were breathtaking too. As expected there was a big crowd surrounding the Monalisa and I had to have a picture of her, although I failed to understand what the fuss was all about. There are many many more mesmerising paintings all over the place some of which did not have a single admirer! Following the Louvre and after some pictures next to the glass pyramids outside we decided to walk to the Luxembourgh Gardens. The garden is a good place for someone wanting to take a break from all the tousists and signtseeing. After some pictures in the sun, we started walking towars the Eiffel tower.

The Eiffel tower is something I have been really looking forward to seeing and it is one of those monuments you have been seeing in so many books and movies, you feel like you already know how it is going to look. But the first glimpse of it made me want to scream. I never imagined it to be that huge and it was nothing like how it looked in the pictuires or movies! After gaping at the metal wonder for a while, we went up to the second level to get some breathtaking views of the city. The whole Eiffel tower experience was totally magical to me. I highly recommend walking to the opposite side, a place called Trocadero which gives you unparalleled views of the tower. The most magical part was the tower being lit up at night and the sparkling lights. Just beautiful! No matter how much you try to capture the moment in a picture, it ends up not doing justice to what your eyes behold! That spectacular sight marked the end of our first day in Paris.

On our second day we decided to visit Versailles, Champ D'Elysses and the Arc De Triomphe. We took the Paris metro to reach Versailles. Even with the pre-booked entry tickets we had to stand a long queue in the sun to enter the palace. Once inside everything was a grand affair, the ceiling art, the sculptures, Marie Antoinette's room and the passage she used to flee the palace during the French revolution, it all felt very surreal. The room of mirrors was just as you see it in the Dior Ad! We visited Versailles on a Sunday and the local market was such a treat, the grapes we bought there were some of the best I have ever tasted in my life! From Versailles we went staright to the Champ D'Elysses and Arc De Trimphe, took some pictures, did some people watching and went back to the hotel tired and in need of sleep! To any beauty addict, Champ D'Elysses offers great window shopping experience!

Third and the last day of our trip was kept aside for Sacre Coure, Notre Dame cathedral and the cruise on the river Seine. We travelled around on the Paris metro to reach Sacre Coure and Notre Dame, both of which have great architecture. The Sacre Coure is set on the top of a hill and offers good top views of the city. The cruise down the river Seine was a great experience. It gives a different view of all the monuments that you visit in Paris, escpecially the Eiffel Tower. We took the Bateaux Mouches cruise and would recommend it to anyone since the English commentary was pretty good. We then went straight to the hotel and setout for our flight journey home in a very happy mood since the journey from the City Airport home would take us less than 10 minutes on the DLR.

In retroscpect I would say Paris felt exactly like London but with everything written in French! It is a good weekend getaway from London if you are looking to fill your sunny weekends with lotsa people watching, good food and some sightseeing.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Durdle Door

One of the most summery places I have been to in the UK. The beach is like an oasis in the middle of nowhere and the arch in the background makes it all the more beautiful. It is a world heritage coast and one visit to the coast will prove why. It is literally in the middle of nowhere. Though there are a few means of reaching there by public transport, driving down to the cove from London is very easy and takes close to 3 hours. A short walk from the parking lot and down steep stairs leads to the beach. It could be done as a day trip out of London and is by far my most favourite spot in the UK.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Italy Again?! (London -> Rome -> Pisa -> Vatican -> London)

I just got back from a 4-day trip to Rome and I am blogging my experience swiftly when it is still very fresh in my memory. Since this is my first time in Rome my focus was on the standard touristy stuff and not so much on the off-the-beaten-track things one could do in Rome. I had a month before my trip to come up with the itinerary and being the planning freak that I am, I had a plan for every single day. Of the 4 days, one day was dedicated to a day trip out of Rome. After considering Naples, Ostia Antica and Pisa, I decided on Pisa, since Rome itself has enough to offer in terms of ancient ruins and an Italy tour is not complete without a picture next to the leaning tower. DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Rome guide book really helped us get around Rome very easily. It has a concise pull-out map, streetfinder maps, metro and bus routes, history on all the sightseeing places in Rome and much more and was extremely easy to use.

We flew Alitalia from London to Rome and stayed at Hotel Colosseum. Hotel reviews to be added towards the end!

The first day was filled with the usual sightseeing including the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Palantine Hill, Spanish steps, Trevi fountain, Pantheon and Piazza Navona of which I was awestruck at how much of the interiors of the Colosseum is still standing. It is such a magnificent structure and  gives you goosebumps to think you are standing in an arena which was actively in use 2000 years ago! I took a zillion pictures in the Colosseum. Although I could have stayed there the whole day, I was forced to leave by the scorching mid-day sun. I read in several places that August is off-season in Rome but there were tourists everywhere and all the tourist spots were massively crowded. It was very difficult to get a picture of yourself without 10,000 strangers in the frame. I cannot imagine how crowded Rome would get during the peak season. Nevertheless, the Colosseum was awesome to explore. I booked my tickets to the three monuments here. The queue to the ticket counter was unbelievable and I was so thankful I did not just turn up at the Colosseum. For those without pre-booked tickets, I recommend getting it from either the Forum or the Palantine hill because queues there were much shorter compared to the Colosseum. We then moved on to the Roman forum which is right next to the Colosseum. Going through the ruins at mid-day wasn't fun. The heat was pretty intense and the entire Forum got quite dusty from the wind. Still I was looking forward to seeing the pillars of the temple of Saturn. It helps to have a good idea of the layout as it is quite huge and you could end up going in circles! If I had known better I would have visited the Forum after the Sun had gone down, but the good thing was there were drinking-water fountains everywhere and having a bottle to fill up is a must. This was followed by lunch and some cooling off in the hotel before heading to the Spanish steps and the Trevi Fountain.

The Spanish steps is a set of steps leading up to a nice church and overlooking a small fountain. We took our first metro ride to Spagna, the nearest stop to the steps. The metro lines are very easy to master as there are only two and switching between them can happen only at the Roma Termini station where they meet. They are considerably cheaper than the London metro and cost only €4 for a day ticket and €1 for a one-time journey and to our surprise the trains were air-conditioned. We walked most of our first day and walking between the tourist spots could take up quite a bit of energy and most of them could be reached on the metro. The Spanish steps is an ideal place to end your first day in Rome sitting lazily with a gelato and doing some hours of people-watching. Trevi fountain was well-lit and looked very grand in the evening. I did not do the much hyped coin throwing since it was too soon to decide whether I wanted to go back to Rome in future! We had no energy left from the sun and the walking hence decided to do the Pantheon some other day.

Our second day was Pisa day! We travelled to Pisa on a Saturday mainly because trenitalia has a buy-one-get-one-free offer on tickets and that is a good €84 you can spend on something else. The train journey takes almost 3 hours one way. Once at Pisa Centrale station, we walked 20 minutes to reach the tower (yes more walking!). The first sight of the tower was superb. The basilica and the Duomo add to the beauty of the tower along with the lawns which have some of the greenest grass I have seen so far. The tower offers wonderful photo opportunities and if you have sometime to kill before your train back to Rome, people-watching is an absolute must! You are sure to see some really funny poses of people trying to get a picture of them leaning on the tower or trying to straighten it up! Don't shy away from taking this picture of yourself, trust me you wouldn't be alone! Our return train was not until late in the evening, hence we took a quick bus trip to Tirrennia to see the much famed Italian beaches there. The bus ride took 15 minutes and costs €5. Be sure to carry your swim suit as everyone there was heavily under dressed! The beach was beautiful and the sun was ideal for sun bathing. We went back to Pisa for some night shots of the tower and headed back to Rome.

Third day in Rome was planned for the Vatican, the smallest country in the world. We took the metro to Ottaviano San Pietro and walked to St Peters Basilica. The queue to the Basilica wasn't bad at all. But be sure to dress sensibly if you don't want to be asked to cover yourself up by a guard in tuxedo and RayBan's in front of so many people! The basilica was extremely huge and the domes had some really awesome paintings. Under the main dome was Bernini's baldacchino which looked majestic and exquisite under the sun rays falling through the dome. We went up the cupola by climbing 551 narrow and claustrophobic stairs to see the stunning top views of the Piazza and the city which made the climb totally worth the effort. For those determined to climb the cupola, I suggest skipping going up the elevator in Vittorio Emmanuelle II monument. From the top of the basilica you can even see the monument in a distance. Outside the basilica there is a line of tacky souvenir shops selling the usual ghastly souvenirs like the laced hand fan with the pope smiling on it! But if you look around patiently you will find some really good pieces for a bargain.

After the Vatican, we headed to the hotel for the much needed escape from the scorching sun, rested for a while and started towards the Colosseum to capture its beauty at night. This is one of the best things I did in Rome, aimlessly walk with just the camera and the tripod from the Colosseum to the Vittorio Emmanuelle monument. I highly recommend everyone going to Rome to do this, not only will you get fantastic shots which expose a completely different view of the monuments but also enjoy how the pavements come to life with colourful fruit shops, painters, write-your-name-in-Chinese stalls and a million other small but interesting shops. Even the laid back attitude of tourists sitting along the pavement fills you with joy. The Colosseum looked amazing at night, I have more shots of it at night than in the sun. Going around Rome at night is a must as it makes you look at the city in a completely different light.

On our last day in Rome we tried to cover the places we had kept for later, the first stop being the Pantheon. The pantheon aka "temple of all gods" is almost 2000 years old and is the world's largest unreinforced dome. It was being prepped for a mass and was unfortunately not open for visitors. From a glimpse of the interiors, the floor looked very intricate and we got a few pictures of the altar. From there we moved to Piazza Navona mainly to see the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi translated to "fountain of four rivers". This is a Bernini designed 16th century fountain in a very lively piazza and offers good photo op. We then went back to the hotel to head to the Fiumicino airport for our flight back to London Heathrow. We took the metro to Ostiense and from there took the FR1 line to the airport.

My Rome holiday was more a tourism trip than a relaxed vacation. There is always a lot to see in Rome and it depends on how much you are satisfied with, else there is going to be more and more churches and museums to visit and you are going to have to leave unsatisfied and frustrated. Try not to pack your day with too many things to do, have enough breaks, always carry water and dress sensibly.

As for the hotel, I was not very impressed with. The reception staff seemed kind of rude at times and the double room had the smallest shower one could fit in a corner. Breakfast was very average and the least one would expect in an Italian hotel is good Cappuccino, but the coffee was terrible and we happily skipped breakfast 2 days out of 4 knowing we weren't missing anything. Still I would recommend this hotel if you are just looking for a clean place to spend the night and it is ideally located within 5 minutes walking distance from the Colosseum and 10 minutes from Termini station. Just don't go with too many expectations and for all you know you might be pleasantly surprised!

Saturday, 4 August 2012

MBA not for me...

Today marks the last day of a 3-week long graduate training program at an investment bank which for obvious reasons I am going to refer to as IB. After 2 weeks of mandatory training, I went into work energised and relieved to be back at my desk. Not that I did not enjoy the training, but I was not particularly enjoying the strict 9-5 schedule. Unfortunately my relief was very short lived when my manager announced I should go on further training on a subject which I thought was entirely irrelevant to my work. To be perfectly honest, in the past 3 years of my professional career I have never been sure of what I wanted to do or what I enjoyed doing. I find it very hard to cook up an answer to the wretched question "where do you see yourself in 5 years". At least my boss knew what I should be doing. Hence without any hesitation I agreed to go on the three day course on Project planning, analysis and control.

Just three days of droning lectures and pointless case studies forced me into making a very important decision in life, that I would never pursue an MBA degree. So far, all the management lectures I have attended have been extremely vague and theoretical. I do not think I can go into work thinking "I am so excited about performing risk analysis on this project. I am going to do an amazing job at it by following the 7 steps outlined in the ****** guide". To me it all seems a bit of b***s***. Risk analysis is vital, but the idea of doing it by drawing decision trees seems silly from my perspective. Nevertheless I passed the assessment with flying colours!

There was one aspect of the training that I thoroughly enjoyed. Being the only girl, not to mention the only Indian girl amongst 10 Irish guys with the thickest accents I have come across was fun! There were times when my mind went blank seeing one of them talk so fast. It made me wonder if they were still speaking English or some unknown Irish language! They were so amused that I found it difficult understanding their accent. But after a day of hearing them crack jokes, I can now proudly state that I am actually able to laugh with them and not just stare blankly at them. I also loved their interesting names some of which are Dermot, Rory, Fergal, Damien and Cormac. After seeing only Johns and Toms everywhere, it was fun to hear such innovative names! At least I took something out of the course, not to mention that now I know a thing or two about Ireland. Apparently Ireland has only one climatic season through the year (Discovered from one of our discussions on weather which the Britons love to crib about!).

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Leeds Castle

My routine every Friday evening has been 
  • Search for interesting days out from London
  • Get tired of looking
  • Give up
  • End up going to Oxford street!

Hence I decided to document some of the interesting places I go to during my weekends (In the tag "London days out"), the number one on that list being Leeds Castle

Contrary to the name itself, the castle is not in the West Yorkshire city of Leeds. Instead it is in the county of Kent. After much frustration of wasting a number of weekends, we decided to make an impulse driving trip to the white cliffs of Dover. Just over a 45 minute drive from London Docklands, on the way to Dover is located the Leeds castle, one of the best castles I have been to so far. It totally made me wonder what all the fuss surrounding the Edinburgh castle being the top tourist destination is all about. While the Edinburgh castle does not have much to offer apart from a couple of walls and a good top view of the city, the entry fee I felt was not worth it. Whereas the Leeds castle makes a superb family day out with acres of beautiful parkland where the kids can enjoy and you get to see history nicely preserved and displayed.  On the two occasions I have been to the castle there have been good entertainments in the grounds, once a garden sale and once an ancient game on horses being enacted. It is also good fun seeing all the rooms inside the castle maintained from the past, the most beautiful ones being the library with book shelves shooting from the floor to the ceiling and the tastefully decorated dining room. The parkland is well maintained with lots of flower plants and trees and I even got to see a black swan and a few white peacocks! Parking space is ample, the entry ticket though on the pricey side, gives you unlimited entry through the year and the castle offers fantastic photo opportunities. Overall Leeds castle is a lovely place well worth visiting on a nice sunny day.

The white cliffs of Dover is exactly what it says, white cliffs facing the sea. From the top of the cliffs you can see the French coast and the innumerable ships crossing the English channel carrying freight, passengers, cars, buses etc. I recommend visiting this area if you have enough energy left from the trip to the Leeds castle.