Saturday, May 20, 2017

Konark Sun Temple - Exploring the ruins of a magnum opus of Kalinga Architecture

Konark Sun Temple - Exploring the ruins of a magnum opus of Kalinga Architecture
His colossal chariot is hauled by seven horses and rolls on twelve pairs of stupendous wheels. Despite this majestic imagery, presently the Sun Temple of Konark is nothing more than a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today, this magnum opus of Kalinga architecture is no better than excavated remains of a divine ship stranded on the eastern coast of the Bay of Bengal, abandoned by its sailor long ago. Neither you can find the deity over His dilapidated chariot, nor you'll get aroma of any incense sticks. Still, for amateurs like us it is almost impossible to describe the beauty of the Sun Temple in mere words. We can wonder at best, and revisit every time with an irresistible urge to unwind the mystery behind its endless charm. Unlike most other beautiful things in the universe, the more you try to delve into her power to mesmerize, the less you fathom. Only an exceptional wordsmith like Rabindranath Tagore could have recounted the architectural grandeur of Sun Temple for us- "Here the language of stone surpasses the language of man"!

Konark Sun Temple - Exploring the ruins of a magnum opus of Kalinga Architecture
Yes, I am one of those spellbound travelers who keep returning to Konark in every few years, with a false hope of breaking into the mist of enigma surrounding this thirteenth century old Sun Temple. My last visit was in December, 2014, part of which I had blogged back then as "Sexual Perversions behind Erotic Sculptures of Konark". Unless a Bong travels at least half a dozen times to Puri (a popular coastal town cum pilgrimage site of Odisha) he is not considered to be a true wanderer. The ideal Bong travels to Puri at different phases of his life and majority of those trips do essentially include the Konark sightseeing. After all, Konark falls in the golden triangle of Odisha with Puri and Bhubaneswar. Puri to Konark, the modest 35 kilometers road on NH-203, brushes the boundary of foamy sea, few beaches, runs through a wildlife sanctuary and doesn't even miss to include a river on its way, a road trip I can certainly vouch for!

Konark Sun Temple - Exploring the ruins of a magnum opus of Kalinga Architecture
The Bong kid gets bored when his parents drag him for this monument sightseeing at Konark, as he finds the roaring sea at Puri much more alluring. After few years, the same adolescent boy savors the raunchy part of tourist-guide's narrations, and shuffles his curious yet swift gaze between an erotic sculpture and an adjoining bland one, so that the accompanying parents fail to discover his heinous thought process. Then, after another few years, the young man with his friends appreciate the beauty of Konark sculptures in much more obvious way which goes beyond the level of acceptability of surrounding elderly tourists. This is how the travel-cycle of a Bong to Konark Sun Temple continues till his grandkid astounds him with, "Grandpa, why all of these Gods and Goddesses are posing naked?"

Konark Sun Temple - Exploring the ruins of a magnum opus of Kalinga Architecture
'Kona' means corner and 'Arka' stands for sun. So, the name 'Konark' literally means the angled sun. The alignment of the Sun Temple is on east-west direction. Unless the sky is overcast, the first sun-rays of the day always strike the main entrance of Konark Sun Temple. There are three depictions of the Sun God at three different sides of the temple, strategically carved in proper direction to catch the rays of the sun at morning, noon and evening respectively. The twenty-four wheels and seven horses of this chariot shaped temple is closely associated with the elementary geography related to the sun. The seven horses symbolize the 7 days of a week, while twenty-four wheels portray 24 hours of a day. Would you take it as an engineering marvel, or a paragon of medieval art?

Konark Sun Temple - Exploring the ruins of a magnum opus of Kalinga Architecture
Each of those exquisitely ornamented wheels comprises eight spokes representing 8 'prahar' of a day. The wheels of the temple are sundials which can be used to calculate time to the precision of a minute, provided you know how to do it. The central hub along with eight spokes of each wheel house amazing carvings on stone depicting myriad activities of human beings at different times of the day, starting from singing at daybreak to kinky sex at midnight. It is said that King Narasimhadeva I, the renowned ruler from Eastern Ganga Dynasty had employed 1200 artisans to work relentlessly for 12 years to erect this mammoth artistic masterpiece with stones. It is not only the artistic dexterity of those wrights that astounds me, but also their superhuman strength involved behind moving those blocks of giant stones!  The Sun Temple of Konark was built to enshrine an image of Sun, the patron deity of the place. The sanctum symbolizes the majestic stride of the Sun God and marks the culmination of Orissan architectural style.

Konark Sun Temple - Exploring the ruins of a magnum opus of Kalinga Architecture
The walls of the Sun Temple of Konark contain thousands of superb carving of divine, semi-divine, human and animal figures amidst floral and geometric ornamentations. The vivacious maidens and danseuses portrayed over stone are remarkable for their sensuous modeling, pulsating with human emotions, absorbed in a variety of gestures and rhythmic actions. It is infinitely tough for our materialistic eyes to see beyond the visual lure offered by scintillating carvings of amorously entwined couples and their exaggerated private parts. If you are not lucky enough you'll end up with an unprofessional guide who'd try to mask his poverty of knowledge by push-selling 'SEX'. Trust me, once you cross the teenage boundary, one-dimensional (and also grossly manipulated) narration on such a versatile architecture is bound to make you farty. Choose your guide wisely. If you're traveling solo and tight on budget, you may decently tail any foreigners' group headed by an English speaking temple guide.

Konark Sun Temple - Exploring the ruins of a magnum opus of Kalinga Architecture
Sun Temple of Konark is not just some grand monument with rich history. It is a complete social canvas of thirteenth century India. If explicit eroticism over a religious structure bewilders you, read the widely acknowledged view of Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy regarding this. The illusory world of pleasure had been boldly sculpted on the outer walls of Sun Temple while the deity was stationed inside it. So, if you want to catch up with the almighty you've to abandon your carnal desires outside the temple wall at first. Simple and convincing; right? Unless you are a casual hopper, you'll be needing 2-4 hours to visit this monument properly. I am glad that I had opted to stay overnight at Konark to document the illuminated Sun Temple after dusk. I remember, it was drizzling in the evening and I had to borrow my hotel owner's umbrella to capture the long anticipated, well-lit UNESCO World Heritage Site. Despite the December rain, chilly wind and mud, Sun Temple complex was thickly populated with tourists.

Konark Sun Temple - Exploring the ruins of a magnum opus of Kalinga Architecture
Illuminated residence of the solar deity was worth visiting. Good news is, very soon India Tourism Development Corporation is about to start light and sound show at Konark Temple using laser technology! I'm sure prospective travelers would love checking that out too. Visit Konark during winter months, and make it a point to spend the night there itself before heading onto other touristy destinations of Odisha. An easy Konark itinerary can be- check in hotel in the morning, explore the Sun Temple thoroughly, pamper the well conceived hunger with unpredictable Odia cuisine, indulge in a catnap, reach the Chandrabhaga Beach on an auto-rickshaw to witness the sunset sky over the Bay of Bengal, return to catch the illuminated Sun Temple, call it a day at Konark and check out of your hotel in the following morning to fulfill your remaining travel goals. Sooner or later you'll revisit Konark anyway, to rediscover the forsaken chariot of the missing Lord.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Panchet Dam en route to Garh Panchkot

Panchet Dam en route to Garh Panchkot
Garh Panchkot is a ruined fort located in the Western part of West Bengal at the southern foothills of Panchkot/Panchet Hill in the district of Purulia. Ruins of the fort, palace and a group of temples are is still standing as silent witness of the rise and fall of the Singh Deo dynasty and also the Bargi attack during the 18th century. It has been almost two years since I rode to Garh Panchkot and blogged about its historical ruins. Somehow I missed showcasing the glimpses of beautiful Panchet Dam en route to Garh Panchkot, but better late than never.

Panchet Dam en route to Garh Panchkot
Panchet Dam is the youngest among four inaugural multipurpose dams built by DVC (Damodar Valley Corporation) in 1959, as a part of its noble venture to salvage Damodar basin by converting the erstwhile Damodar from a "River of Sorrow" to a "River of Opportunities". Being closest to Maithon Dam in the tourist map of Bengal-Bihar-Jharkhand, Panchet certainly compels its tourists to draw comparison with the former. Well, both of these dams are extremely scenic; If the monster green lake is the highlight of Maithon, ethereal vista plays the trump for Panchet!

Panchet Dam en route to Garh Panchkot
Panchet Dam is located at Panchet over the Damodar River, where it forms the natural boundary between Indian states of Jharkhand and West Bengal, a little above its confluence with the Barakar River. Jharkhand lies on the northern bank and Bengal lies on the southern bank of Panchet reservoir. Panchet Hill rises above the Panchet Dam to earn few more brownie points for this already gorgeous landscape. As I mentioned in the beginning- architectural ruins of Garh Panchkot dating back to 1st century AD lures thousands of travelers throughout the year. Close proximity to NH-2 is probably the concluding reason to justify the high tourist influx at Panchet.

Panchet Dam en route to Garh Panchkot
Thankfully, prohibitory regulation on photography at Panchet Dam was not so stringent like that of Maithon, and I could easily park my motorcycle over the bridge to click few photos of the picturesque surrounding. It was late morning. Sun was too luminous to allow me preserve the goodness of my captures. But for me, travel photography is all about clicking photos on the go, capturing a panorama as I see it, rather than how others would fantasize. I'm sure that an early morning drive up the dam would be quite an experience in itself, with well maintained lush greenery at left to sooth your eyes and the Panchet Hill rising over the reservoir at right to tease you at the same time!

Panchet Dam en route to Garh Panchkot
Although I visited Panchet in the month of August, it wasn't exactly the time when gates of the dam were raised, and I could not witness the stereotype monsoon view of gushing water. Winter is the most comfortable season to visit Panchet Dam. Avoid the second half of December and first half of January though. Usually, tourists with minimal love towards the environment flock around the dam at that time simply to litter the area in the name of picnic. You might be interested in checking out the Nehru Park at Panchet before heading onto Garh Panchkot. I won't recommend a night halt at any of those places. You better visit Panchet as day-trip and finally stay overnight at Maithon, provided you have two days in your itinerary.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Vega Eclipse Open Face Helmet Review - just Avoid!

Vega Eclipse Open Face Helmet Review
Having used it for two months, I think I'm eligible now to share my sour opinions on this gorgeous looking open face helmet from the house of Vega. If you've been following my blog you would know, occasionally I review products/services which are related to either traveling or photography. Those are simple ownership experiences and not professional reviews. If you are not looking for technical testosterone or manufacturer's manipulation, then you might consider reading my reviews. To tell you the truth, review blogging doesn't fascinate me. I do it only when I feel that the buyer's interest is at stake. I regret the moment when I fell for this dull anthracite colored helmet. Although we all know looks can be deceptive, seldom we realize it, at least not until we spend our hard earned money on a product like this. Finally, it is the moment of truth: Vega Eclipse open face helmet is flimsy and uncomfortable, a perfect disappointment for any sane rider.

Vega Eclipse Open Face Helmet Review
It is a double visor open face helmet. Quite contrary to majority of open face helmets available in Indian market, Vega provided Eclipse with a full-face outer visor. The outer visor is large and crystal clear. I have a fairly longish face, yet the only thing that remains outside the visor is a tuft of beard. A full-face visor not only protects your face from the unpleasant wind blast at triple digit speeds but also shields your eyes from blinding dust particles. Perhaps this outer visor is the only silver lining over this obviously gray helmet. The inner visor (sun visor) is nothing more than an element of beauty. Cheap plastic used in it lowers the overall visibility, and the pathetic build quality makes the visor hurt rider's nose real bad. The quick-release knob present externally at left refuses to play its role. At most it can pull down the visor to some extent and the rest of it is expected from your fingers. Forget about operating this switch with your riding gloves on. Don't worry, you won't be using this semi-transparent sun visor anyway!

Vega Eclipse Open Face Helmet Review
Did you notice those multiple patches of brownish discoloration on the right side? No buddy, I neither tortured my helmet with burning cigarette nor with harsh cleansing agents. How did she get those bruises then? Well, for around fifteen minutes (or less) I made a mistake of latching the helmet to my motorcycle grab-rail and it was unhurried summer ride on a plain afternoon road! Come on Vega, few scratches would have been understandable but why these lifelong scars? Work on your paint quality before some other blogger calls it shitty more loudly. 

Vega Eclipse Open Face Helmet Review
Whenever I wore the helmet for more than 40-45 minutes, I had always got an annoying headache. It is a 'L' size helmet. According to specifications it should accommodate head size from 59 to 61 centimeters. My head measures little north of 590 millimeters, theoretically a perfect match for this helmet. Mystery behind the headache was more painful than the headache itself. It needed to be solved. On carefully studying (note those marked portions in the above photograph) the internal padding I discovered presence of few sharp exposed parts near the ear compartments, poor adhesive works throughout, and miserably inadequate cushioning especially over the rim of inner hard (white colored) insulating material making the evil thing to brutally compress numerous scalp veins, especially at temporal regions. That's not only lousy manufacturing but also a crime!

Vega Eclipse Open Face Helmet Review
Wow, look at the strap material and I'm sure you'll have sufficient idea about Vega's integrity! If those synthetic fibers have started giving up just after two months of usage then what will happen after whole 365 days? May be I should buy a coil of nylon rope so that the helmet can be secured as soon as its stock strap gets torn apart one fine day. A couple of weeks ago I tried to convey my agony to the manufacturer in vain, through their official Twitter handle. Thankfully, my phase of regret is over. The equation is pretty simple. I lost my few hundred bucks, but on the other hand, Vega lost faith of many prospective buyers. Now you know, Vega Eclipse open face helmet might look photogenic, but definitely it's not the helmet a rider deserves. 

Product: Vega Eclipse Open Face Helmet with Double Visor (Dull Anthracite, L)

MRP: 1,385 INR

Pros:
- Looks good.
- Lightweight and compact.
- Fairly good internal air circulation.
- Full face outer visor is a rare virtue.

Cons:
- Highly doubtful build quality.
- Inadequate inner padding to steal rider's safety and comfort. 
- Crappy Sun visor.
- Unreliable strap.

My Rating:   2.5 / 10

Oops! My helmet hunt begins again...

Monday, April 24, 2017

A Ride to Bishnupur - the Terracotta gallery of Bengal

A Ride to Bishnupur - the Terracotta gallery of Bengal

Finally, a time comes when you manage to free yourself from the shackles of monotony and puff out an extended sigh. But before you resume your normal breathing, what is that one portrait which captures your mindscape? For me, few important elements of that liberating picture are- the ‘Vroom’ of my motorcycles, ‘Click’ of my camera shutter and of course, the ethereal call of some unknown soil. This motorcycle diary dates back to 25th June, 2011. My only pony used to be a Bajaj Discover 125 back then. I wanted to ride along the beaches of Bengal which was demanding a complete week. Ouch, luck returned me a disdainful smile when my leave application got rejected at the climax of a much fantasized trip! Thus my well-planned twenty days vacation got truncated to a bad joke of three. But I refused to sit back and doze like a panda.

A Ride to Bishnupur - the Terracotta gallery of Bengal
Tall greeneries at two sides were real comfort to our eyes.

As I Googled for places nearby Bardhaman, Indiamike travel forum came to my quick help. The old town of Bishnupur with its widely acclaimed terracotta architectures topped the destination shortlist. Bishnupur, renowned for its exquisite terracotta temples, illustrious terracotta crafts and the gorgeous Baluchari Sarees made of Tussar silk, is a town in Bankura district in the state of West Bengal. A quick web-search can fetch you a lot of information about the rich history of this temple town. Owing to its significance as a tourist destination it is nicely connected via roads to almost all major places of Bengal. There are regular and frequent bus services available between Kolkata and Bishnupur, which roughly takes 4-5 hours. This place is also connected by rail to the rest of India via Kharagpur and Bankura. Once you reach Bishnupur, you better hire an auto-rickshaws or cycle-rickshaws, though I personally would prefer the later option due to its sluggish pace that enables your eyes to record the details of the town and its people better.

A Ride to Bishnupur - the Terracotta gallery of Bengal
We came across a group of elephants near a place called Kotulpur.

Luckily, my brother agreed to join me for the day ride to Bishnupur. As a routine ritual, last night I had packed my backpack before going to bed. The 4 AM alarm was anything but comforting. There was mild drizzle, so we couldn’t commence our ride before 05:45 AM. The sky was clouded and I could sense the pleasing collision of tiny drops of rain over my face and forearms. Unless you’re commuting for office, or an allergy-prone individual you love getting mildly wet… don’t you? We crossed Krishak Setu over the river Damodar and took the truck-congested Arambagh Road. We were never in hurry and kept mopping miles over the narrow yet nice state highway. What a bliss, there were no dust and smoke of big vehicles due to the wet atmosphere around us! What could be a better token of love from your lady luck when you are riding on a two-way road? Soon we reached Arambagh, and it was time to take the diversion to Bankura-Bishnupur road.

A Ride to Bishnupur - the Terracotta gallery of Bengal
Bishnupur is renowned for its exquisite terracotta temples and illustrious terracotta crafts!

Now it was the time for some woes as the road condition changed for bad. You can find a smooth span of 100-200 meters of tarmac, and suddenly a big trench (yea I really mean a trench)! The message is: be steady and watch out for ugly potholes. If you’re planning to drive your four-wheeler then you have to be twice slower, provided you love your machine. We came across a group of elephants near a place called Kotulpur. My brother spotted them first and showed me. I took out the camera and clicked few shots while passing by them gently. Our pony was no larger than a toy before those royal creatures. Due to some unknown reason, men riding those tuskers seemed displeased with my photography zeal. I couldn’t take the risk of annoying them and signaled my brother to speed up.

A Ride to Bishnupur - the Terracotta gallery of Bengal
Inside the Rasmancha.

Gradually we entered the forest road of Joypur. The road became butter smooth once again. Tall greeneries at two sides were real comfort to our eyes. Although the sun had come up the air was still cool. We came to know from a local guy that one can spot deer in the early morning on that road. We reached our destination by 09:30 AM. The trip-meter was showing a satisfying reading of “100” kilometers. I got down and inquired the directions of the places in my list. A veteran came to our aid. He was unexpectedly helpful and information rich. I listened to that nice man until he was satisfied with his guiding endeavor. Then we covered different places of tourist interest at Bishnupur, one by one. Here I won’t elaborate each spot, because I believe, wanderers in general are not so thirsty for the background history. Rather they are more concerned with the visual appeal. Obviously I’m not talking of those serious group of travelers who don’t miss out any single chronology.

A Ride to Bishnupur - the Terracotta gallery of Bengal
Dalmadal Canon.

Outside the Mrinmayee Temple we took double glasses of Lassi and came to know that tourists usually start gathering there from the Dussehra month. I was extremely happy to find the place almost tourist-free. In the entire trip we had to purchase tickets twice- once a Rs 5 ticket from Archaeological Survey of India for visiting three temples under their care (Jor Bangla temple, Temple of Shyamrai and Rasmancha), and another 5 rupees ticket for Lalgarh Nature Park. We covered thirteen places before the afternoon clock struck two. A couple of places were yet to be explored, like- a museum, Nutan Mahal etc. But we were left with no energy to push farther.

A Ride to Bishnupur - the Terracotta gallery of Bengal
Jorbangla Temple.

Brother wanted to freshen up in a hotel to get rid of the dust and sweat over his skin. But I knew once we enter a hotel and take shower nothing would better cloud our decision than a cat nap which eventually shall delay our return ride indefinitely. So I swapped my cap with his helmet and zoomed out of Bishnupur. On reaching Joypur, we found a manageable roadside restaurant ‘Banalata Restaurant’, adjacent to a vehicle exhaust analysis center. There you can have your lunch in air-conditioned cabins by paying few extra bucks. Expect semi-decent Chinese and North Indian dishes, along with common Bengali cuisines. Pricing was OK. We had our lunch, sipped coke, and rode back to Bardhaman in a post lunch idle mood.

A Ride to Bishnupur - the Terracotta gallery of Bengal
Radhashyam Temple.

Having munched 217 kilometers in the odo, we returned back to our place by 5 in the evening. I stopped by River Damodar to capture few quick snaps and conclude our road trip. As a bottom line note I must say, squeeze out some time, rekindle your traveling spree and head out for Bishnupur. You don’t have to plan anything in particular. You’ll be touched by the simplicity and down to earth nature of locals. When you are at Bishnupur, every time you breath in, you urban conditioned soul will be rejuvenated by the relaxing aroma of rural Bengal. Finding an accommodation won’t be an issue. I would recommend a 2 days stay to make your trip more effortless and absorbing.

A Ride to Bishnupur - the Terracotta gallery of Bengal
Rasmancha.

Folks, do you make it a point to put on your helmet while riding two-wheelers? If not, then you should be seriously ashamed of your riding behavior. You’re not only risking your life but also peace of your dependent ones. A helmet not only safeguards your invaluable head from road trauma but also protects your eyes, face and ears from the effect of dust. Do not apply your cost-cutting ideas while purchasing a helmet. Always go for a robust one from reputed manufactures. Nothing can be worse than a helmet breaking into pieces after a collision and its sharp parts piercing into the scalp of the unfortunate rider! I support CEAT whole-heartedly for taking this initiative in promoting road safety. Apart from wearing a proper helmet, few safety measures which every rider should stick to are:

- Check your tyre pressure periodically and maintain the optimum pressure as recommended by the manufacturer. Remember, slightly under-inflated tyres are safer than overinflated ones.
- Avoid abrupt changing of lanes on a highway. Do so with proper turn indicator on.
- Respect other drivers, riders and pedestrians on your way.
- Engrave it in your mind that driving is a privilege, and by no means it is your right!

A Ride to Bishnupur - the Terracotta gallery of Bengal
I stopped by River Damodar to capture few sunset snaps and conclude our road trip.


(I’m chronicling my road trip adventure for CEAT Tyres in association with BlogAdda.)

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A quick weekend Ride to Mukutmanipur

A quick weekend Ride to Mukutmanipur
Last Saturday, my morning surfaced at ten when the outside was already quite sunny. Soon I realized that I was free for the entire day. What about a quick ride then, I teased myself! One thing I knew, if I sat on my chair and gave that riding thought a scope for reasoning, eventually procrastination would take the upper hand and a motorcycling trip shall never materialize. So, the first-aid measure was to ignore the overhead sun and lock the riding plan. When it came to choosing a destination, three places seemed practical for a half day ride- Bishnupur, Susunia Hill and Mukutmanipur. Being farthest among three, Mukutmanipur won hands down. This was my first leisurely ride with Benu (Benelli TNT 600 GT). The idea of her first thousand kilometers getting clocked up in my work related commute started taking its toll on me. She was not meant to haul monotony. Go by your heart or literature. Either way, she was born to travel. In Italian, "Gran Turismo" (abbreviated as GT) refers to vehicles that can make long distance tours in optimum comfort and style. Benu's first service is due on coming Saturday. I had to initiate her self-actualization before that.
A quick weekend Ride to Mukutmanipur
Cars are not allowed to enter this scenic road over the dam. But Benu could squeeze the juice.
Mukutmanipaur is a picturesque hamlet in Bankura district of West Bengal, nestled at the confluence of rivers Kangshabati and Kumari, houses a giant blue lake as the center of attraction for thousands of tourists visiting Mukutmanipur for unadulterated weekend relaxation. Just like Maithon, Mukutmanipur is a place to be best avoided during summer. Still, if you are a traveler with a spoonful of madness and can put up with the baking heat waves of Bankura, you're most welcome to visit Mukutmanipur anytime round the year and setup your own picnic spot. Apart from the vast water-scape, there are plenty of greenery and hillocks studded in the canvas of Mukutmanipur to exhilarate a wider variety of wanderers. Thankfully, my brother volunteered to be the pillion in my sudden-planned weekend ride to Mukutmanipur. We left Bardhaman at twelve noon!
A quick weekend Ride to Mukutmanipur
You might encounter an elephant or deer (strictly in the early morning though) crossing your way.
Our route to Mukutmanipur (170 kilometers stretch) was fairly simple and mostly through well maintained roads, starting from mammoth NH-2 to modest yet smooth SH-2. As soon as we touched the highway tarmac, Benu started pulling like a charm, easily cruising over triple digit speeds without letting us feel the rapid motion. When I ride my dark mare (Bajaj Pulsar 220 F) on highways, at times young wannabe racers play the "catch me if you can" game. With Benu the situation is bit different. Whoever chases me on a motorcycle, does so to know my machine and certainly not for outracing her. When the old problem gets perished a new one is conceived. Nowadays many four-wheelers on highways do tend to treat Benu as their competitor. You want to know how I respond? Well, that's an evil secret I'm not ready to share. After attaining a stable speed on road I can use the engine guard (also called- limb guard) on either side as highway footpeg, and I tell you the posture is so damn relaxing after that!
A quick weekend Ride to Mukutmanipur
Mukutmanipur welcomed us with her beautiful roads, Kangshabati Dam and a huge lake.
Soon after crossing Durgapur Barrage the typical Bankura landscape, comprising curvy roads fenced by tall furniture trees and red rocky soil popped up its head. Even if I keep aside those faint childhood memories associated with my three years of stay at Bankura back in kindergarten days, I had accumulated enough while revisiting the town on multiple occasions later. Luckily, despite its dry heat and rough terrain, this district still boasts of a number of prominent forest areas. You might encounter an elephant or deer (strictly in the early morning hours though) crossing your way. The surrounding nature is so beautiful that one would long to take numerous photo stops. But, when the afternoon heat is at its zenith and your two-wheeler weighs north of 250 kg, you often put a rain check to your other longings.
A quick weekend Ride to Mukutmanipur
When you are at Beliatore, spot one of those old sweet shops selling Mecha, like Mecha Mahal.
After a couple of halts at different forest zones, our third and final halt before Mukutmanipur was at Beliatore. It was neither a re-hydration necessity nor a photo break. Beliatore is famous for its Mecha Sandesh (a special form of local sweet) which I absolutely wanted to include in my trip blog, more than I wished to taste one. When you are at Beliatore, spot one of those old, less glossy sweet shops selling Mecha, like Mecha Mahal. Call me old-school but I'm deeply skeptical about the newer shops claiming to sell authentic Mecha or any other traditional item in that matter. To cater the anti-diabetic (do not take it literally) need of modern travelers, sweet shops also offer a less sugary type of Mecha which is vastly different from the one we used to savor in our childhood. Despite its sophistication and price it was tasty. I would recommend you to taste both of them.
A quick weekend Ride to Mukutmanipur
Half a dozen of motorized boats were dozing by the jetty (Of course with their boatmen).
Mukutmanipur welcomed us with her beautiful roads, Kangshabati Dam, huge lake, scanty tourists and rows of closed shops. The government has certainly done its bits to make the town look like a tourist spot. I think you are getting me, right? A hand few food shops screaming desperately to pull few customers in for lunch, and a couple of tourist groups packing up their mess near the boating jetty were the only signs of life in an otherwise still Mukutmanipur. We were starving like rats, yet postponed our lunch for surveying the place. Half a dozen of motorized boats were dozing by the jetty. The shadow of off-season was clearly visible over the entire tourist ambiance of Mukutmanipur. Either those boatmen were too exhausted by the summer heat or they were least optimistic with a unshaven loner. One of them invited me reluctantly. A two-hours boat ride, which includes two sightseeing spots, one of which is an old temple, costs only 400 bucks.
A quick weekend Ride to Mukutmanipur
Like a dreamer, I indulged in the fantasy of being there in a full-moon night...
We were in real paucity of time. Half an hour could have been manageable, but two hours... in no way we could have afforded. Cars are not allowed to enter the scenic road over the dam. But Benu could squeeze the juice out for us. Voila! The kilometer-long (probably more) road turned out to be motorcyclists' paradise. It is twisted but without sharp bends, wide enough to let you corner with confidence, maintaining the perfect harmony between the green valley (slightly exaggerating) at your left and the blue endless water at right, and most importantly giving you the illusion that you're part of a Hollywood chase sequence. Those of you who won't be carrying your two-wheeler there, do not lose hope. There are auto-rickshaws available to offer you the Corsican experience! Like a dreamer, I indulged in the fantasy of being there in a full-moon night and imaginations those followed spontaneously made me real high...
A quick weekend Ride to Mukutmanipur
Off-season is the perfect time to explore a place especially so if you are a shutterbug.
Who can beat the whims of nature? The tyrant sky turned cloudy all of a sudden. There were distant roars of cloud. Our lunch was long due. As a matter of fact, the overall dehydration had engulfed our appetite. What choice did I have but to abort our dam-side riding ecstasy! Off-season is the perfect time to explore a place especially so if you are a shutterbug. But, availability of food becomes an issue. Avoiding those roadside food hotels (desperate ones I mentioned earlier) we tried our luck in a decent restaurant. The silly waiting time they threw at us was the clear indication of how disinterested they were to toil in an overcast summer afternoon. The scarcity of good food coupled with the moody gravid sky above compelled us to cancel our food. We went for packaged fruit juices instead before bidding goodbye to Mukutmanipur. 

Benu is blessed to be a machine. She doesn't have to lose her patience out of hunger. Human coldness fails to disappoint her. She claims her needs without a tinge of hesitation. Once she gets fueled, she munches miles effortlessly without the slightest bother for weather, terrain or hospitality. Yes there are few areas where she falters and right now I'm too hexed by her spell to highlight those. Safe riding folks. Summer is on. It is very easy to lose patience and engage in a road rage. So, keep calm and ride smart! 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A Trip to Maithon - the "Kashmir of Koyalanchal"

A Trip to Maithon - the Kashmir of Koyalanchal
"Kashmir of Koyalanchal", the name itself might be confidence inspiring for many travelers. But, if you are lured enough to visit Maithon anytime in summer be ready to confront its unforgiving warm weather. After all, coal belts of eastern India are meant to be hot, dusty and rough; aren't they? You must be wondering whether I belong to that elite group of high spirited wanderers who does not hesitate to accept challenges offered by extreme climatic conditions. Certainly I am not. Ladakh in winter does fascinate me, but not Jaisalmer in summer. So, why did I still choose to make a trip to Maithon in the ugly afternoon of 31st March? Those of you who know me personally or follow my blogs regularly are quite familiar with my status of being a solo traveler. Yes, solo traveling has its perks. But once in a blue moon when you get to take the highway and spend some quality time with your old school comrades then group traveling itself turns out to be boon!
A Trip to Maithon - the Kashmir of Koyalanchal
This time it was four of us. Few weeks back, we met in a cafe (not by any coincidence though). All four of us were desperate for a short road trip which necessarily would include a night halt. After few lazy permutations and combinations we agreed upon Maithon. Maithon is barely 135 kilometers away from Bardhaman and the better part is, Maithon doesn't have many distractions to fatigue those visitors looking for an idle weekend stay. To top it all, I must admit, we cared very little whether our destination was Maithon or Madison. What kept us excited were the imposing thought of a journey together and of course, the anticipation of a blissful gentle-men's night out. Maithon is a small town located on Jharkhand - Bengal border, famous in the map of eastern India for its dam built on the river Barakar, which not only controls flood but also generates a huge amount of hydroelectricity.
A Trip to Maithon - the Kashmir of Koyalanchal
Maithon Dam is independent India's first dam project under Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC) which contributed immensely in turning the erstwhile wild river Damodar from "River of Sorrow" to a "River of Opportunities". Our subject of interest was bit off-center though. The mini travel plan was pretty simple- to reach Maithon by evening, find a comfortable stay, make every minute count in our exclusive style (because, one should make hay while the sun shines), wake up early, witness a mesmerizing sunrise from the dam-side (totally cliché I know), indulge in boating over the picturesque lake and commence our return journey with the usual, yet never-materializing consolation of planning another group trip very soon.
A Trip to Maithon - the Kashmir of Koyalanchal
None of us had a SUV/MUV, and hatchbacks we have couldn't provide us the space we needed. I wasn't ready to settle with a Mahindra vehicle but now I'm glad that I took a chance. The white Xylo we hired was sufficiently smooth and roomy. Other than our expected brouhaha the drive to Maithon was almost uneventful. I was overjoyed to discover complete absence of toll booth on NH-2, from Bardhaman to Maithon. Happy toll-free days won't last long as NHAI is setting up a toll plaza near Rajbandh. Although it was dark by the time we left highway and took the Barakar-Kalyaneswari Road, there was perceivable change in landscape. The surrounding was hilly which signaled us that we were not far from the "Kashmir of Koyalanchal".
A Trip to Maithon - the Kashmir of Koyalanchal
From the list of accommodation options provided in Wikitravel we decided to start our hunt from Hotel Shantinivas. Luckily the room was fine and the tariff was negotiable. We submitted ourselves to the hotel confinement and untied our inhibitions in search of Nirvana. For obvious reasons parting with the bed early was an onerous task, but the call of a rising sun over Maithon Dam was too shrill to ignore. We stepped out of the hotel only to discover an overcast morning sky. Somehow I wasn't disappointed. There were half a dozen of tea stalls outside. It'll be a gross understatement to call them tea-stall as you can find a wide variety of beverages, bread-omelette, puri-sabji and "what not?", all under the same tin roof. You'll find auto-rickshaws eager to take you for a spin around the dam for 100 bucks or so. Avail them if you're not ready to walk 2-4 kilometers, or if you visit Maithon in odd hours of scorching noon.
A Trip to Maithon - the Kashmir of Koyalanchal
The boating dock was small, adjacent to a strategically located hotel run by DVC- Majumdar Niwas. Majumdar Niwas sits picturesquely on an isle, surrounded by green water and connected to the land by a long footbridge. I could only fantasize how ethereal it would be to spend a full moon night in that hotel! On the spot booking is not entertained there. So, you've to make prior reservation through DVC. Soon we reached the dam to explore the real essence of Maithon. Photography is strictly prohibited over the dam and there are enough security personnel to ensure that. Take a leisurely walk over the bridge. Although vehicles are not allowed to halt over the bridge, as a pedestrian you can take that leverage. Enjoy the vast turquoise (being overly poetic) reservoir at your left, studded with tiny islands of myriad shapes. Spot a distant fishing boat or try to figure out faraway rock forms. Just settle down, take deep breathes, curse DVC for their anti-photography policies, imagine how majestic the view would be during the monsoon time and start walking again to discover Jharkhand on the other end of the bridge. Oh hold on, do gaze at your left too, to find a herd of deer grazing undisturbed. We were back to the boating harbor, managed by Salanpur Panchayat Samiti.
A Trip to Maithon - the Kashmir of Koyalanchal
There are three options to choose from- speed boat, country boat and paddle boat. A friendly, tribal boatman took us for a hour long ride to Sabujdeep. Only a non-motorized country boat, sluggishly cutting through the emerald lake water could satisfy our boating appetite. We were in no hurry to reach. We wanted to smell the water and gulp its surrounding visuals with wide open eyes. A speedboat ferrying tourists went past our modest boat and the waves it created kept swaying us for a minute. Instead of feeling threatened we felt more pampered! The isle, Sabujdeep has certainly lost her chastity. Tourists have littered this once pristine piece of forest land with everything from liquor bottles to snacks wrappers. Otherwise, the local Pachayat authority has spent money generously in shaping this island tourist friendly. Occupy an umbrella shade at the extreme edge of Sabujdeep or hike the little hillock in front of the jetty to capture the best possible 360 degree panorama of the lake-scape.
A Trip to Maithon - the Kashmir of Koyalanchal
Good times get spent rocket fast. We had to check out of the hotel by 11:30. Our sole aim was unadulterated relaxation. But if you're visiting Maithon for the sake of exploring, do also visit the 500 years old Kalyaneshwari Temple and Pahari Baba Mandir. Owing to its close proximity to NH-2, Maithon is well connected to other places by road. Nearest railway station is Kumardubi, just 9 kilometers away. You have plenty of hotels and lodges to choose from. My half cent- visit this Kashmir of coal belt only in winter months. Safe traveling folks. Summer is on. Drink ample fluids and keep yourself adequately hydrated. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Maha Shivaratri celebration in 108 Shiva Temples

Maha Shivaratri celebration in 108 Shiva Temples
Folks, do you remember that unique Shiva Temple complex at Bardhaman which is more popularly known as 108 Shiva Temples? In case you missed my earlier post on the 108 Shiva Temples, I'll acquaint you with this beautiful religious architecture of my hometown once again. 108 Shiva Temples have been designed in the form of a Rudrakshya necklace whose 108 beads are comparable to 108 small temples arranged as a close loop, connected with two ponds on either side. Being blessed with divine orders in her dream, Maharani Bishnu Kumari, widow of Maharaj Tilak Chand constructed the temple complex of 108 Shiva Temples in 1788. Each temple in the 108 Shiva Temples complex is an example of Bengal style Terracotta temple of seventeenth century. As the name suggests, this temple compound houses 108 Shiva Lingams.
Maha Shivaratri celebration in 108 Shiva Temples
Located around five kilometers from the heart of Bardhaman (railway station), 108 Shiva Temple is easily accessible by Toto or by town service buses. Centered around the temple, a week-long fair is celebrated every year during the auspicious occasion of Maha Shivaratri when tourists and pilgrims from faraway places gather at Nawabhat. Maha Shivaratri is one of the most prominent Hindu festivals in the honor of Lord Shiva which is celebrated annually on the 13th night/14th day of the Hindu month of Phalguna (just before the arrival of our much romantic 'Spring'). It is only during Maha Shivaratri celebration, cannabis consumption gets unofficially legal status in India, making this festival so widely popular among all marijuana lovers! If you're a foreigner traveling in India during Maha Shivaratri days, do not be overly surprised to find men in saffron smoking marijuana (Ganja) from clay pipes in several religious sites.
Maha Shivaratri celebration in 108 Shiva Temples
Despite my religious bankruptcy, my spiritual compass often points to the right direction. If you are an impulsive person like me you would know how difficult it gets to postpone something which you want to do right now. Abandoning an afternoon nap doesn't quite favor petting the belly fat, yet, I solidified my determination of sacrificing today's (technically, yesterday's) post-lunch sleep. My plan was to visit the 108 Shiva Temples and document its ongoing Maha Shivaratri celebration. Thankfully I happened to be in the right place at the right time. It was fun!
Maha Shivaratri celebration in 108 Shiva Temples
As expected, the temple complex was crowded with devotees, visitors and wannabe Shiva disciples. The parking space was secured but barely accommodative. Same goes for the shoe-stand. Slots were all occupied when we reached. Luckily a couple returned after finishing their rituals and we got their shoe shelf. A nominal entry fee (two bucks each) bought us access to the temple complex. There were long queues fortifying a couple of front side temples while others were relatively easy to infiltrate. Shiva Linga in all 108 temples were richly decorated with sandal paste, vermilion, flowers and traces of milk (offered by devotees). 
Maha Shivaratri celebration in 108 Shiva Temples
A fascinating aroma was born by the fusion of myriad incense sticks, melting candles and other ritual consumables which evoked positivity in our otherwise aimless minds. Did it have any connection with spirituality, or was it merely the action of few biochemical receptors? I seldom try to dig things which are deeper than my level of understanding. Being in the moment always seems wiser in such situations, and I did exactly that. I kept idling with my camera following more purposeful feet. No buddy, I was not under the influence of Bhang or anything so obvious. It just felt good, and what else would have mattered?
Maha Shivaratri celebration in 108 Shiva Temples
A Hindu devotee observing this Maha Shivaratri festival would usually fast, take a bath and finally offer Puja to the deity in any nearby temple. It is customary to chant divine names of the Lord while offering the holy ritual bath to the Shiva Linga, with milk, honey, flowers and bilva leaves. The fair encircling 108 Shiva Temples is pretty basic, and thus serves in entertaining the surrounding rural population primarily. Do not be too finicky while tasting few sweets from any village fair. You might find them too sugary for your refined urban taste but be very sure that those sweets are fresh.
Maha Shivaratri celebration in 108 Shiva Temples
After a clockwise circumnavigation of the 108 Shiva Temples complex we found our way out. My dentist friend who was reluctant initially to join, thanked me at the end for planning such a productive afternoon. Most probably my blog did thank me too, for fetching it an update after almost one month! Although irrelevant to this post, I thought to let you know that a new horse is about to join my stable very soon. Yes, I booked a new motorcycle and it is from the house of Benelli this time. Hope to write many more motorcycle diaries in coming days. Wish me luck, amigos.