Thursday, December 8, 2011

Californian Splendours---17 Miles Drive

This panoramic state derives its name from the mythical island California in a 16th century popular Spanish novel; ruled by Queen Calafia and its beautiful, brave, strong, all women Amazon warriors who used gold tools and weapons! My wife Poonam and I dreamily flew from classy, vast Houston to vibrant San Francisco crossing beautiful territories below us. Even the air-hostess told me that she loved to fly over these regions! We were warmly received and taken to Sunnyvale, 30 miles south by our dear, friend Gopal with whom we stayed ; it was still daylight though the time was nearing 8PM. Refreshing ourselves, we had a sumptuous dinner with barbequed, tender goat meat accompanied by a good scotch. His flamboyant son, a software industry higher up, also had the hobby of nice-cooking, once in a while! Relieved of the harsh 100+ temperatures of Houston, we slept soundly covered with quilt in the 60+ temperatures here. Summer in the Texas region was punishing this year!

Next morning, we enthusiastically started for the scenic, countryside 17 miles drive, hugging the Pacific coastline. It was just cool and clean everywhere with mountains all around covered with lush, verdant pines. The whole, more than 100 miles, route from Sunny Vale was filled with ripe farms of artichokes, asparagus, strawberries, lettuce, you-name-it-they-have-it! Yes, California produces around 80% of U.S. fruits and vegetables! Fresh artichokes being mechanically harvested immaculately and cartoned was also a sight to behold amidst the eye-filling green fields. Perhaps such landscapes of the Silicon Valley gave romantic Steve Jobs an aesthetic vision in the design of personal computers!

We entered the drive at Shepherd’s Knoll on a cold, foggy day in late September. The fog engulfed the view of the Monterey Peninsular arc from the knoll and created a dreary atmosphere with a number of Western seagulls perched on sand in a certain part of the beach. But this was the way nature helped moderation of temperatures in summer and also reasonable supply of water to coastal forests! Forgetting about the promising sunsets in the evening; cold due to the strong breeze from the grey Pacific, we walked back towards our car, crossing strands of kelp (a proteinous, edible seaweed) in several places. And we chanced into pretty, colorful clusters of Ice plants on elevated mounds of sand. These charming, Hottentot figs (the other name, and I loved it as it conveyed something warm instead of ice!) with flowers of various hues are of South African origin; they control soil erosion and are also very fast spreading.

We moved on to Huckleberry Hill, from where again the views of the bay and Del Monte forests were marred due to the fog, but we could spot a deer or two at levels lower to us with binoculars. Soon we reached Poppy Hills, resorts having highly esteemed golf courses of the world. But I found myself least interested in them and their pleasant, cultured appearance as we had traversed beautiful green fields just sometime back! Also the whole 17 miles of the peninsula with beautiful beaches; restless, naughty waters and rugged rocky shores was ahead with the promise of the fog, giving way to brightness! The grand mansions of the affluent community, hidden behind screens of huge pines and the famous, huge Poppy Hills Golf Course with 18 holes, did not carry much meaning to the normal tourists charmed by the glories of nature even under adverse settings!

We moved along the serpentine route through lush green Monterey pines towards Spanish Bay, from where the beautiful beaches, accompanied by imaginatively designed Golf Courses started. In the adjacent town of Pacific Grove lived the Nobel Laureate John Steinbeck for a number of years, who wrote Tortilla Flat around the Monterey Peninsula! Strolling along the shoreline for a while with hands in pockets as the breeze was very cool for us, we drove towards the Restless Sea and Point Joe where huge white waves in the waters galloped towards the coast threateningly; mainly due to the submerged rocks breaking the waves earlier. Then we reached Bird Rock, a hill at a distance from the shores, sheltering a fantastic combination of cormorants, gulls and roosting pelicans during spring and summer and also seals, sea lions and otters with kelp around them. This happened to be the point of maximum interest for us as we watched the verity of fauna on the hill with binoculars.

We also had fun, feeding friendly, big seagulls flying and perching around us as we offered them feed; yeah…, the spine-chilling birds of Alfred Hichcock’s suspense thriller “The Birds” were really a good surprise! So also the playfully darting squirrels resting on thighs for nuts in the palms! All this with the saxophonic bellowing of the sea lions at a comfortable distance on the Hill and to top it all, we also had the rare, magnificent view of a big cormorant with wings spread on a nearby rock and a seal resting near its feet as if courting!

Well, with fun at heart and ducky world famous Golf courses (Spyglass Hill, Cypress Point Club) on the way, we moved on to the “Lone Cypress” with its bright green foliage at the flat top and the lunging haggard trunk, braving the teasing, Pacific! Yes, the over 250 yrs. Old tree, standing alone on a huge, granite really dramatized its valor on the live canvas formed with the ocean around!

It deserved to be the symbol of the prospering Pebble Beach and its enterprising residents. American restaurateur Al Bernardin, one of the residents of this elite area was the inventor of the, 420 klcl. Quarter Pounder, real macho, whole burger of McDonald’s! This weird variety of cypresses, due to very strong coastal winds, directly known as Monterey cypress now happened to be small populations in Monterey and Carmel.Some of them, as old as two thousand years had scary Halloween effects, combined with the persisting fog and memories of the “Ghost Tree” and the likes.

Steadily driving over the unusual cypress trees route we reached Pescadero Point, the northern point of the Bay. Here the famous, ghastly Witch Tree, also used for scenes by suspense film-makers, relentlessly withstood the harsh winds till it perished on Jan.14, 1964 in a storm. This was the only on which the important Hindu harvest festival of Sankranti occurred, and the atmosphere made me think of weaving a suspense thriller myself!

Curving over the Pebble Beach Golf Links, one of the most prestigious and beautiful golf courses in the world with some holes along the coastline, and the Stillwater Cove we reached the cute, town of Carmel towards the evening, still foggy! This wonderful, go-natural place, where wearing high-heels was prohibited as one was likely to trip over pavements distorted by roots of trees, was mostly developed by its worthy residents who happened to be the treasures of the country in the form of artists, poets and writers of the kind of Robinson Jeffers and Mary Austin. We walked along a calmly busy street and entered a store, also selling verities of tasty sauces and dressings. Gopal picked up a small jar of cranberry sauce and a good Californian wine for a turkey dinner. Then we moved on to the Carmel Plaza, another pleasant shopping centre with something for everyone. We bought a large Cappuccino for each one of us from a bistro and enjoyed the lively music and dance going on in the open space outside; where people leisurely accommodated themselves at the conveniently arranged tables. Yeah…some of them with their dogs in this exceptionally dog friendly town, where pets were allowed even in restaurants and hotels, having doggie-menus and provision of water for the pets! This lovesome town happened to be the home-town of the cigar smoking, gun-toting megastar Clint Eastwood who in reality strongly supported the selling and eating of ice cream on the streets as he contested to be the mayor of Carmel. Well…, mind you that he is a life long non-smoker and of course, gem of a healthy gentleman who regularly practices Transcendental Meditation! I tried to conclude that this was a good place for me to attain Nirvana provided some Richie Rich patronized me!

image from,r:0,s:21

Raja Ram Atre

Friday, May 6, 2011


From the world renown Puri, I reach the scanty, insipid town of Konark by bus, to be dropped around the not visible Sun temple. I walk through a narrow lane with shops of handicrafts and mementos on both sides and soon reach the dilapidated temple, stunningly zooming on me as I walk onward in wonder! The magical network of matchless, lively sculpture on granite all over, already starts casting its spell on me! The Black Pagoda(as the European sailors called the landmark),the culminating brilliance among Kalinga style temples, sprawling over a land of 860ft by 540ft amidst casuarinas, mahogany, rosewood plantations was built and completed between 1253 and 1260 A.D. by king Narasimhadeva-1 to proclaim the political supremacy of the Ganga dynasty. Creativity, energy and aesthetic commitment of 1200 artisans and architects, over a period of 12years with the state revenue receipts of 12years; and the temple was finally completed after some more confounding problems.

The entrance is guarded by two fantastically sculptured ferocious lions (Gajasimhas), each crushing a war elephant which in turn lies on the top of a human body. Then I climb into the, at present without roof, brilliant, multi-pillared Nata Mandir where the temple dancers performed in reverence to the Sun God. The lively dancing figurines all over the pillars around give an impression of some live performance going on! As I slowly walk on to the other side and descend the stairs, I have the majestic view of the Sun Temple in all its glory ascending before me!

Conceived as a huge, exquisitely and intricately sculptured Chariot with twelve pairs of giant sized wheels and seven horses (these horses by the side of the stair case on the eastern side of Jagamahana were broken and done away with.) with a beautiful image of Surya (Sun God meaning beautiful light) in the main temple behind. This 230ft.high structure perished due to fanatic brutal attacks by Kalapahad a Hindu Kayastha convert to Islam, general of the Sultan of Bengal in 1568. To begin with, the east-west aligned Konark, meaning essence of the corners(perhaps of the three corners namely Bhuvaneshwar, Puri and Konark forming the Golden Triangle), is nothing but a depiction of the philosophy of the living, the lively, and the full of life beings and things inspired by the life and sustenance giving phenomenon, Arka(Sun’s name meaning, the essence of all).

As I start moving around the temple, I reach a wheel of the chariot, 9ft. in diameter, with eight thick and eight thin spokes displaying detailed, finest cut, carvings of a variety of gods and goddesses and scrolls of flora and fauna. The wheel also works as a sun clock during the day time. Such 24 wheels signify 24 hrs of the day. The base below the wheels all-round has a scroll of hundreds of elephants (about 1452) in different lively poses, carrying the king in some places, also warriors on elephants and horses with swords and shields in their hands, deer-hunters and also real life scenes of husking rice, bullock-carts, pilgrimages of old people.

The next level depicts imaginary figures like Gaja-Shardula (lion upon an elephant), Nara-vyala (lion upon a man), Naga-mithunas (half human, half serpent couples) and male and female figures in different poses; all life like with the best touch of chisel. The next level of Mitra’s(Sun’s name meaning fried of all) temple has wildest of the erotic sculptures with some astonishingly eye-catching amorous couples indulging in sex! Even Vastayana’s Kam-sutra does not have a mention of such poses depicted with perfect knowledge of human anatomy by the artists! Of course, under the auspices of Hiranyagarbha (Sun: meaning the golden centered), the creator and nourishing (Pushna: one who nourishes, a name of Sun) deity of life in prime prosperity times; naughty, healthy, mutually consented natural heterosexuality is quite legitimate! Evidently sex was not a taboo and its uninhibited appreciation definitely seemed to be a sane gesture of social life in those days.

This huge platform around which I spend a whole lot of time is 16-1/2ft. in height and on this stands the 130ft high Jagamohana or Mukhashala (porch), the audience hall of the temple, with a terraced pyramidal roof. It has three tiers separated by high recesses containing figures of life sized dancing women with musical instruments depicting Devadasis at the time of Aarati.The walls again have three tiers like the platform, each tier having much larger, beautifully carved animal, human and imaginary figures. It has four black chlorite doors in four directions 14-1/2ft wide and rich with sculpture enhancing the impact of the structure. This 60ft square hall is packed with stone boulders, sand and lime since 1904 from inside for safety.

Behind the Porch are the remnants of the main temple which was 230ft high, the highest of the temples in India! The crumbled temple has 25-30ft. thick portions of walls remaining around the Sanctum Sanctorum which lead us into it through a flight of stairs. Three life like Parsva Devatas with seven horses and a variety of devotees, the Sun himself in different forms in chlorite stone on the walls and an artistic, huge throne with creepers and animals and king Narasimhadeva himself worshipping Bhaskara(Sun’s name meaning one who leads to attainment) with his companions, carved on it still make us feel as if we are amidst life still breathing! The image of Surya is installed on the throne; even in their present condition they happen to be the rarest specimens of Konark sculptures!

Well the whole temple with its beautiful surrounding premises is a dream-cum-reality which makes the people forget themselves and definitely ushers their imagination to now horizons!

Raja Ram Atre,

3-6-687/102, St. No.10,



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Thursday, April 21, 2011


Krishna Janmabhoomi Temple

From Delhi,the heart of Indian tourism,myself and my wife Poonam reach Mathura, a distance of 145km by train,late in the night and get the last bus for Vrindavan 11 km further. As a matter of fact, Braj, culturally the land of Krishna,the colourful cowherd who also guides the world even today with His exposition of the philosophy of karma through Bhagvad Gita, comprises of the cities Mathura,Agra and Bharatpur(Rajasthan).It is 10:30p.m. as we enter the premises of RamKrishna Math with a sprawling hospital(providing very affordable services to poor people) and beautiful gardens.But the serenity of the Math,apparant even in the night, is disturbed by monkeys vigourously moving around amidst the trees and even screaming at times.Yes,Vrindavan is full of naughty,but normally harmless monkeys,who sometimes snatch away your spectacles too! Soon we meet the concerned Swamiji who amicably guides us to and hands over the keys of our simple but adequately equipped appartment,where we stay for three days.
Next morning, after having a simple but wholesome breakfast of chapatis,potato-cauliflower curry at the Math, we proceed to Mathura by an auto-rikshaw. This ancient city,the birth place of Lord Krishna, has a mention even in Ramayana, the oldest Indian epic. At present,it is an industrially developed place,contributing substantially to the economy of U.P. and has access by train from all the major cities of India.A strategically important place for the defence of the nation,it is also a hub of educational institutions in U.P. But,for the people of India and many in the West,THIS is the place of all aura,aroma and charisma of Lord Krishna! Obviously and accordingly with the historical and epical importance,we first locate the obscure, insignificant, underground temple (resembling a prison cell, constructed by Marathas) of Laddu-Gopal sharing a common wall with an elegant Mosque constructed by Aurangzeb,destroying the ancient Keshav Dev Temple.
The zealotry of invadors of the likes Mahmud Ghazni, Sikandar Lodhi slowly poisoned the sentiment of Hindus. We spend some time in the cool, fragrant- with- flowers, pleasant cell,while a group of old ladies melodiously sing laurels of Krishna in Brajbhasha(the Braj variant of Hindi). Then we move on to the new,main temple complex,constructed in the late 1960s after a movement led by late Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya,also founder of the temple of learning, Benaras Hindu University,the largest residential university in Asia admitting students and faculty of all religions!He said,"India is not a country of Hindus only.It is a country of the Muslims,the Christians and the Parsees too.The country can gain strength and develop itself only when the people of different communities live in mutual goodwill and harmony." In todays enlightened India and world,religious fanatism is a brutish phenomenon of the Old Stone Age and should be rightly dealt with. But all the important religions still carry the same respect and impact, as their common crux is nothing but a completely fructified philosophy for the benifit of all people.
We drift here and there, in the massive temple with big corridors and well ventilated halls,before we come into the great assembly hall in front of the Sanctum Sanctorum housing beautifully carved marble statues of Radha and Krishna aesthetically decorated with flowers. Here,in the almost empty hall(being noon time) we find a small group of white people sitting in a circle in front of the Sanctum Sanctorum and a cute,young lady among them dancing in tune to the cultural Rasiya music bieng tastefully played on the speakers in the hall.As the music and dance end,their guide puts a garland of marigold flowers around her neck as a token from the Lord and all of us clap with amusement as the lady bows courteously with all the charm and smile on her radiant face.Slowly,we move out of the temple and land ourselves up in a well known sweetmeat shop opposite to the temple!We order 2kg.of the famous Pedha for taking home,and indulge ourselves in a glass each of great,chilled,creamy Lassi with the fragrance of keora(pandanus odoratissimus:botanical) in big Kulhads (earthen pots).We also enjoy hot Samosas with sweet Imli ki chutni(made with tamarind and cumin). Our stomachs are full and we contentedly,lazily move out uttering "Radhe....,Radhe.....", the name chanted most adoringly and melodiously in Braj!
We engage an auto-rikshaw and go to the important Krishna shrine, Dwarkadheesh temple,built in 1815 by Seth Gokuldas Parikh, the Tresurer of Gwalior.This beautiful temple,with a very modest entrance due to a crowded,narrow lane in front,has its main deity Krishna and artistic images of Radha and other Gods around.Particularly, a frame of Krishna and Sudama meeting is very impressive.This temple,at a small distance from the river Jamuna,is the greatest crowd puller during the festivities of Janmashtami and Holi.We spend some time in the

cool,calm,ventilated temple eating the Prasad of Kheer(a sweetened rice and milk porridge with dry fruits and nuts).Comming out of the temple in the narrow,usually filled with people lane,we move towards the river,listening to vibrant classical music based on different festivals of Brajbhoomi, played on speakers by shops selling C.D.s and D.V.D.s. Enthralled by the music,we just stop at a shop by the side and buy some music, listening to some more for selection.
We return to the Math,relax and get ready to visit the most important temple of Vrindavan(Tulsi,holy basil forest); The Banke Bihari Temple! " The Lord,thakur Shri Kunj Bihari Maharaj(Swami Haridas called him so), is the Ocean Of Love,the Cosmic Beauty and the Eternal beauty of this ocean is unfathomable," wrote Swami Shri Haridas, the Guru of Miyan Tansen,one of the navratnas(nine jewels) in the court of emperor Akbar.He discovered the image in Nidhivan in the 16th centurywhich was later on moved to the present temple in 1864.We slowly move through a friendly puzzle of colourful, very narrow, crowded lanes and bylanes filled with small shops by the
sides selling momentos,flowers,offerings in the temple and Chat and sweetmeat.We reach the temple,at a higher elevation than the streets around.It is sunset time, as we enter the temple through the ornamental entrance,most of the time not visible, even from a small distance, due to the the structures in the viscinity.Once inside the temple,we are engulfed by the soothing,golden light of hundreds of small earthen oil lamps lit individually by devotees as it is Kartik Mas(a particular auspicious month).The light inside matches the twilight hour light outside and at a distance we alsosimultaneously see the dark majestic,magnetic image of the Lord in the Sanctum Sanctorum amidst similar illumination.We move down some stairs,then on the floor of the huge hall ,surrounded by beautiful pillars and paintings and then again climb to the altar at an elevation to see Him from very much nearby.It is said that as the tender hearted Banke Bihari may leave the temple with anyone of the spellbound,true
devotees having continuous Darshan,
a curtain is drawn on Him at regular intervals!Definitely,we come out of the holy,historic temple in a very joyful state of mind. Moving amidst a veriety of people from different places(including whites) in the narrow lane,we stop before a sweetmeat shop and have small kulhads of Khurchan(A simple but tasty,mildly sweet, dessert made from the scrape after reduction of milk,with a pinch of cardamom powder added). As the taste excels, we carry some to the Math,to enjoy after a tasty,gratifying,dinner.
may leave the temple with anyone of the spellbound,true devotees continuously having
Next day morning we take a tourist bus,which takes us to
several important places of Mathura.First we go to Govardhan,a hill full of greenery and rocks, where cattle grazed in the days of Krishna.He once lifted the hill sheltering all the people and animals under it; protecting them from torrential rains and havoc caused by the arbitrary wrath of rain and thunder god Indra,for not getting the usual offerings from the people under Krishna's guidance.There is a huge,impressive Goshala(shelter for stray cows) by the side.You have to be barefoot to climb this holy hill.Then we proceed to Nandgaon,where Lord Krishna spent his childhood,fostered by king Nanda and his wife Yashoda.We visit the spacious temple and then proceed to Barsana,the childhood days town of Radha,Krishna's beloved Gopi. Philosophically,Radha and Krishna constitute the Absolute Truth and both of them are found together in every temple as also in the majestic Radharani temple on the verdant hill Ghevarvan in Barsana.In the unique Lath-maar(charge with staff) Holi festival in this place,ladies charge men with well oiled lathis,while thy protect themselves with leather shields amidst bursts of colours! This correlates with the romantic mythological episode of Radha with other Gopis teaching a lesson to krishna and his friends for stealing their clothes at a bathing Ghat!

Then we visit Radha Kund and Shyam Kund, considered to be supremely holy,which are full of devotees from

East and West and were rediscovered by Gauranga(a golden hued body)or Chaitanya Mahaprabhu,who propounded the philosophy of

devotion through Gaudiya Vaishnavism in early 16th century.Since the beginning of his Bhakti movement,Chaitanya had Muslim and Hindu participants and later in the 20th century histeachings were taken to the West and the whole world by Swamy Prabhupadananda with the movement known as The International Society of Krishna Consciousness(ISKCON).Krishnalogy is studied in several academic institutios of the world today! Salimullah Khan,a noted linguist maintains,"Sixteenth century is the time of Chaitanya Dev,and it the time of Modernism in Bengal.The concept of Humanity that came into frution is contemperanious with that of Europe." We move further by bus to the picturesque Kusum Sarovar,a place full of Krishna's favorite Kadamb trees and beautiful monuments on its bank, constructed by Jawahar Singh,in honour of his father Raja Surajmal(early 18th century) and his queens.Having beautiful gardens on the other side, the 60ft deep lake is an ideal spot for leisurely swim around the sunset time! This was the fragrant place with a veriety of flowering trees where Radha and Krishna met clandestinely!

It's evening as we reach the beautiful ISKCON temple in marble displaying Gauranga, in the light of the twilight hour! This temple,The Krishna Balram Mandir(has the divine brothers in the central altar),established by Swamy Prabhupadananda in 1975 is the first ISKCON temple in the world; also having his Samadhi on the left near the entrance. Here at Raman Reti near Jamuna,the divine brothers herded their cows.The first altar has Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Nityananda Prabhu as deities and the third altar has the eternal couple of Radha and Shyam

with their confidential Gopies Lalita and Vishakha. This clean, live temple is full of people,energising music,dance and a sense of all pervading Happiness throughout the day,with complete freedom of movement and access to all sections! The temple has a great courtyard enclosed by gallaries with beautiful paintings depicting Krishna's episodes.It also houses momento shops in one of which I buy a T-shirt witha beautiful image of Radhe,Shyam; and of course,two vegetarian food joints serving mouth-watering sweets and snacks of the kind in Mathura,but bigger in size! I just love the Kachori I eat and we carry a Kulhad of Rabdi(a milk delicacy) as an
after-dinner sweet to the Math.

Next day morning after breakfast, ,we walk to Nidhivan,a grove of jasmines having the Samadhi of Swamy Haridas,the divine saint-singer. We find a number of playful monkeys all around in the cool atmosphere,as we move along the narrow paths
amidst the aged shrubs.But at present nobody believes that Lord Banke Bihari and Radha came to this place for relaxation after dancing Rasleela with other Gopis at Seva Kunj,another unbecoming,monkeys infested grove at present!Since last
250 years the scenic,fragrant forests of Vrindavan with the local fauna of peacocks,cows,monkeys and a veriety of birds have been whittled away by the local kings and subsequently by wreckless developers in the process of unruly
urbanisation.We spend some time in these legendary places and then move in the Kunj Galiyan(very small lanes) leading to where-we-don't-know! In a place we come across a huge camel seemingly charging at us with a small cart behind it and a
person driving it sweetly shouting Radhe...Radhe....Yes,this is the most beloved word in the land of Banke Bihari that solves all the problems for all the people with love and devotion! We too, just rush into an open door by the side and come backto see the cart past us!Soon we affectionately bid good-bye to Mathura,Vrindavan.

We proceed to Agra by bus from Mathura and reach the place by 14hrs.Our aim is only to see The Taj as we have to board the train for Hyderabad the same night! Understanding the importance of the value added time we have at our disposal,we reach the complex as quickly as possible,buy tickets and enter the Great Gate by hook or by crook,in spite the long week end queue.Hmm.....we see the glimpse of the Wonder of the World through the arc of the darwaza and rejoice at our success!Ya....we have made the happy,around the sun set hours;the most gratifying time to be in the dreamy,extensively treatised, Taj Mahal complex!We

romantically drift amidst the lush gardens trying to find the best and most soothing places to relax with different views of Taj.The nuances of Taj, as the sun starts setting are surely the most memorable with its various golden hues. Surely,the soul of Mumtazmahal, who died during the birth of her 14th child, blesses all for health,romance,peace and well being!The sun has set and along with the crowd we happily bid good bye to a memorable moment in our lives.
Our tour complete,I fall asleep in the train,sweetly recollecting the good time we had.I dream that it is full moon night and I am again in gardens of Taj, gloriously luminescent. "Hey,behold", I also see Lord Krishna,Radha and the Gopis playing Raas to sonorous heavenly music!
"Oh Lord,how come you are here," I devotedly ask Him,completely charmed."Surely,this is the right place for Us in Braj at present",answers the Lord dancing pleasantly.

Raja Ram Atre

VaishnoDevi,The Enlightened Damsel

maa vaishno devi

A View of Katra
It is the third time we are visiting Goddess Vaishnodevi,residing in a cave in the beautiful Trikuta range of the great Himalayas.Yes,every time the trek is enjoyable and frolic filled and with an amount a person spends for ten i-max movies,one can make this awe inspiring,health giving,THE- REAL- THING- journey by train!We go to Katra,2500ft. above the sea level, from Jammu and climb around 14km. to reach the shrine visited by 8 million people every year;next only to the Balaji temple at Tirumala! Once,full of hurdles and dangers,now the whole way is well paved and with good,hygienic facilities for food,snacks,soft drinks and icecreams.Drinking water and toilets are also provided at convenient distances.Hindus and Sikhs regularly throng to these beautiful peaks tallest at around 9000ft.,but our journey takes us to a height of 6500ft.only.The majestic valleys and mountains are joyously climbed by all comfortably taking their own time,chanting "Prem se bolo Jai Mata Di" and so on.....But remember,unless the Enlightened Damsel gives us a call,we don't reach the place.Don't worry,just go to Katra and you are through to Her benevolence along with all; experiencing the thrill at all important places where She created mythology,being followed by a crafty Tantric Bhairobaba, against her wishes, with malice in his heart.

Prem se Bolo...... Jai Mata di.....

Accompanied by a faithful Langur,She dodges Bhairobaba in the arduous terrain of Trikuta mountains.She also has a lion to protect Her!Soon we find a nice big pool of water(Ban-Ganga),created by Her by shooting an arrow into the earth,for the Langur.Here,the people take bath and happily proceed further giving slogans like "Has ke bolo Jai Mata Di"(hail the Mother with smiles).We have a hearty brekfast of tasty Chhole and Bhature, and proceed. Three km.ahead and at a height of3500ft. She turns back to see whether Bhairobaba is following.Her foot-prints(Charan Paduka) are established here and we see the fresh landsape of Katra through morning mist from a curved path nearby. Here we enjoy a lively dance with a group of youthful students to the tune of drums from drummers sitting by the side on the way!.The climate is exhilerating as we climb another 4km. to Garbh-Joon-Guha,a cave into which She disappears for nine months to mislead Bhairobaba.This cave,about 25mtrs. long, resembles a uterus with a surface of various sizes of smooth,rotund stones.For God-fearing fatsoes or nervous skinniy people it is supposed to be a suspense-filled experience to pass through the cave! It is said that one

is cleansed of all his sins once he comes out of the cave ; and also the gynic problems of ladies are rectified! At any time there will be a long queue for this event and one stands for hours together thoroughly tiring oneself but enthused by the slogans hailing the Mother.It is next morning with soothing sunshine and rejuvenating breeze, when we head towards HaathiMattha(elephant's head shaped), a point at a height of 6500ft. and a distance of 3km.On the way,beautiful needle-shapedpine leaves in bunches shine like emeralds in the sunlight, against the far off huge cliffs in the background.

A Unique Tall Hill Midway...

Bhairobaba is again able to find her after 9 months but She vanishes into her final abode leaving the mighty Langur to stop him. But the adament Tantrik easily vanquishes the Langur when the Mighty Mother appearing with all her prowess in the most terrifying form just beheads him with her trident making his head spin off to a place 1300ft. higher and the body dropping dead at the entrance of the cave,The Bhavan at present(Here accomodation,food and all important things are managed
by the Temple Trust very efficiently and at the most reasonable prices)! But the highly attained Bhairobaba's head is still conscious as he repents before The Almighty Mother.Being kind hearted,She not only pardons him but also grants him a
boon that one's pilgrimage will not be complete unless the person visits Bhairobaba's temple 1300ft. higher!From Her Darbar(or Bhavan) at a level of 5200ft.

Mata Vaishno Devi Darshan Package

At the shrine we get very good branded tea,coffee and also icecreams,everywhere.At the big eateries provided by the Trust we get great hot Alu ,Gobhi Parathas with sliced onions,pickles for breakfast; and yummy Kadhi withPakodas,Rajma,rice,parathas and curries for lunch!Yes,you are fit for the tough climb to Bhairoghati,full of langurs(perhaps they are friends of Bhairobaba now). One really feels happy, particularly after seeing the pleasent head of Bhairobaba!From here beautiful views of valleys,mountains and gorges is your lot:you are bound to return a healthy, tuned and energised person after this romantic, friendly trek!
Bhairo Baba's Friends Now!

Man,don't try to emulate Bhairobaba with a lady against her wishes, for a boon; today a woman is much more powerful by the grace of Mother, but far less benevolent! You will be deep in the soup!


Raja Ram Atre.
Ph.040-40077565. Cell:7893145237


Even the month of July is simmering hot in north India and after tiring checks and halts even 50km. on the way to Jammu,though the people give us excellent welcome at the Bhandaras(where food,medicine and even staying facilities are made free of costfor the pilgrims) the journey is boring and alarming with the threat of terrorists for the disconcerted pilgrims from different parts of the country till they reach Pahalgam.But be rest assured that there will be no problem except a lot of discomfort after which you step into the heavenly Pahalgam where Shiva is said to have left his bull as he started with his paraphernalia and consort Parvati in search of a place where he could explain her the secrets of Eternity.
We spent a lovely evening in Pahalgam having a simple dinner of piping hot parathas and cauliflower curry with Kashmiri spices,sitting by
the side of a walnut tree with raw walnuts in the lawn of an inexpensive hotel.Then we had along walk on the almost empty roads on which a pair of ducks walked carefree;a bit further a group of children were making kababs by the roadside.further down some people were calmly coming out of a Goddess's temple.All these activities were smoothly going on under the vigilance of security people moving in armored vehicles looking for unearthly terrorists!Yes,it was pilgrimage season and we too moved freely enjoying a rare event of our life.Next morning,the beautiful Pahalgam with snow clad mountains all around and the youthful river Lidder playfully flowing through it,bid us farewell for a dream filled journey to Amarnath.
We reach Chandanwari,16km. farther,by a van.It's a small cute spot garlanded by river Lidder with colourful tents of the security people amidst.Here Lord Shiva is supposed to have left the Moon which adorned his head.From here onwards we are on a trail with pine trees around adding freshness to the atmosphere.The first trek itself is a tough climb to Pissu Top,a distance of 3km.taking us to a hight of 11000ft.Then,soon we are in the vicinity of huge ice chunks allowing clean chilled water of Lidder through them.We move further through beautiful rock formations with small waterfalls everywhere.
It's almost noon and we are heading towards Sheshnag,a gradual climb of another 750ft.and a distance of 11km.We are already tired and move on monotonously a long way,up and down,without much marginal attention.Around 5p.m. we reach
the legendary Sheshnag lake,where Shiva is supposed to have left the snakes that adorned his body.Behind the lake is the huge multipeaked Sheshnag mountain.In the late evening both of them together invoke a cautious curiosity with the weird story that on some particular days a huge snake appears standing erect in the
We proceed further and reach the camp where our moods are immediately elevated as we see two or three well lit bhandaras bustling with people and music.Each bhandara has quality food items and sweets to serve the pilgrims.It's just like a 5 star night(in urban terms) in the Himalayas!

Next day morning,we start for the highest spot of the journey,the Mahagunas Top,an altitude of 14000ft.Though the steep climb is less than 5km.,the rough terrain definitely exhausts one,and lack of oxygen gives a gripping headache.The top is also susceptible to unpredictable rough weather.We quickly move towards Panchtarni at a lower hight of 12000ft.This trek with wild mountain scenes around and the five rivers contentedly flowing in the plains,give us great relief and relaxation after the hard climb to Mahagunas.We happily cover a distance of 9.5 km.,sometimes wading through chilled waters and reach the camp late in the evening again to find festive food arrangements and an atmosphere of celebration as we shall be reaching the Holy cave next day!
Early in
the morning,we start on a curving and risky trail,mostly surrounded by ice,for our final destination.In the beginning as the sun rises when we look back from an elevation,we see the beautiful plains of Panchtarni with the rivers snaking glitteringly over them and a huge range of mountains behind them washed by the sun rays all over!This is said to be the place where Shiva danced Tandava in happiness.But take care,walk without looking here and there;the route sometimes curves with edges which may throw you into abyss,if you miss a single step!When we reach the Sangam point 3km. midway and peep,we see a confluence of pleasant green waters with neat tents in the plains between them.From there roughly,the 14km.,tough Baltal route starts.Go on further chilling yourself and also finding lonely vendors selling cool drinks on the way.You are quite near the Cave where you can take bath in the chilling waters of river Amravati flowing towards you from the side of the cave.From here you can see the Himalayan fantasies in ice!After that you may think of doing away with the artificial snow-worlds of theworld!
Now you are moving through a lane with people selling Prasad and Pooja material on both sides.A very good number of them are Muslims.If you have hired a pony,your ponywalla is a Muslim!When I talked to a Muslim businessman in Pahalgam,he said that Muslims also visit Baba Burphani(Lord Shiva) for ''Mannat"(wish fulfillment).Well,
the cave is about to appear.
And lo!Suddenly
the huge marvel appears from a distance!The Magnificence,facing south,brilliant in sunlight,more so because of the light from a huge rock face somewhere in the opposite side,is definitely a Nature's wonder at an altitude of 13000ft.!The Cave has been visited since hundreds of years by great saints like Adi Sankaracharya,Swamy Vivekananda,Ramtirth, and so on.V.S.Naipaul visited the Cave when he was in India and wrote of the joy and happiness he experienced on seeing the mighty cave along with other people!

This Grand Cave,40yds. wide at the outer mouth,75ft. high and at least 80ft. deep sloping down in the mountainside was also visited by Francois Bernier,the French physician accompanying Aurangzeb to Kashmir in 1663.The physician exclaimed about the Cave in his travelogues,"Grotta full of wonderful congealations!"
The wonderful congealations are Amarnathji(Lord Shiva),the undefinable Himalayan Mendicant;His consort Parvati and son Ganeshji, for the Indians.

Raja Ram Atre

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Kolhapur, A Pleasant journey Surprisingly!

Maha Laxmi Temple

It was raining cats and dogs all over Maharashtra and the news of floods, dams full to the brim, railway tracks in Mumbai submerged and so on and so forth was consistently being broadcast on T.V. In such circumstances on 2 nd July night, with our light luggage we waded through shin deep dirty waters everywhere outside the station and entered the Pune station to board the Sahyadri express. Our destination was Kolhapur around which 110 villages were submerged! Come what may, we had decided to stick to our schedule and even the train, starting from rain pounded Mumbai was just 45 minutes late though the reports of most of the trains indefinitely delayed were broadcast!

Next day morning we were in Kolhapur , the prosperous town of Chhatrapati Shivaji 's dynasty,on the banks of river PanchaGanga. Believe me, surprisingly the weather had improved a lot and there was some sunshine, bringing happiness on our faces. Our main purpose was to visit the famous Mahalaxmi temple, built around 700A.D. in the Chalukya period. The same morning we were in the beautifully sculptured and planned huge stone temple with a big yard all around and an elderly banyan tree in one corner. One of the six Shakti-Pithas in the country, here the Goddess is supposed to be present in all her glory and benevolence. Her beautiful 40kg gemstone idol (supposed to be 5000yrs. Old) in the sanctum sanctorum is eyes filling and graceful with a change of sari every now and then(sarees are offered by the pilgrims). From the Balaji of Tirumala, during the Navratri days, the first saree is gifted to the Mahalakshmi of Kolhapur!If you want to come here from Tirupati,remember Rayalseema express!Incidentally,we had the 'darshan' on a very special, auspicious Tuesday(Angaraka sankashta chaturthi) on which people here do not eat meat and even non-vegetarian hotels do not prepare non-veg. food!

Also known as Karveer area this rich town with one of the highest per capita incomes in Maharashtra was in the list of Merc-Benz Co. since pre-independence days. Along with the Dutch,Greek and Ethiopian royalties, ChhatrapatiShahu was also an early owner of aMayBach car, and today the number of Mercedes cars here is second only to Mumbai! Kolhapuri footwear is popular throughout the world and Kolhapuri chicken,you will get in good Hyderabad restaurants. The most interesting and pleasing points to note were,though narrow,the streets and roads were maintained clean and no one spat on the roads or peed on the road sides.We were told that garbage was cleaned twice a day.

Panhala Fort

By 10 a.m. the same day we decided to go to
Panhala by car.18km. north-west of Kolhapur , a soothing green hill-station3177ft. above the sea-level. Sprawling all over the hill is the Panhala fortress (more than 700yrs. Old) filled with the aroma of history of legendry Chhatrapati Shivaji and Maratha empire.One day earlier we could not have reached there as the road was submerged with flood waters Even today we were passing submerged sugarcane fields on both sides!

All the time the rains were playing hide and seek with us. Panoramic views of the valleys from the different remnants of the majestic fort were lush and beautiful and gratifying to the eyes in the rainy season. Somehow, wrath of the torrential rains was over and we had great fun as we moved as we moved from one remnant to other in the largest of all Deccan forts with a loquacious guide. Don't worry, you too will get one quite cheap and don't expect me to tell the historical details of the fort!We started back early in the evening enjoying the cool green fields getting a golden hue due to the setting sun.On the way back we visited the classical Royal Palace in Kolhapur,where the present descendent prince Shahu Maharaj resides.

Next day morning we had a unique, hearty breakfast of Kolhapuri Missal(a thick, hot vegetarian soup of sprouted legumes with laving mirchi tang) and Pav(bread). Our driver told us that he had instructed the waiter not to make it rrreal hot;otherwise we would have tears in our eyes! Then we started for Sajjangadh,via the National highway to Pune,another 100 km. a very popular hill fortress, in the foothills of Sahyadris. Here Swamy Ramdas guru and guide of Shivaji, spent his life philosophizing noble thoughts in the form of verse for the common people of Maharashtra.Most of the hill we could climb by car and then the final phase of the serene fort, replete with steps, we climbed by foot. Having the 'darshan' of the 'Samadhi', we returned to our car seeing beautiful views of picturesque valleys all around. It drizzled most of the time and fragrance of freshness in the

Sajjan Gadh

atmosphere was exceptionally rewarding for people like us from the big rut cities.

We also came across several mini waterfalls on our sides as we ran down the ghats;but the biggest bonus of our trip were the Thoseghar waterfalls, about which, some days back, I had read in a local news paper. We didn't know that they were on our way back!

Soon we were in the vicinity of the falls and saw the name and direction board on our left,a heartening surprise! The thunder was audible but the drizzle, suddenness and newness of the place bewildered me as I confusedly rushed, first in the wrong direction and then in the right direction. Then I started climbing down the well made steps towards the falls. After around 300 steps and some turns, finally I made to the view-point. And loin was nature and beauty personified in the valley with the falls, fortified by abundant rains. For about 20mts. It did not rain and again the rain started thrashing us. Yes, it was time for us to feast nature along with other revelers! It was a rare opportunity for us to be there at the decisive moment! Of course I am not Henry Cartier bresson(a great 20 th century photographer), but definitely my eyes photographed many details for my pleasant memories.

Raja Ram Atre, Those Ghar Falls



Hyderabad , A.P.



Monday, January 17, 2011


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