As if the roads connecting Leh to nearby cities were not pretty and scenic enough, BRO (Border Roads Organization) added a dash of humor to it and gave a fun flavor to our journey. The BRO maintains the roads in this region and have planted some funny and quirky road signs along the roads.
These signs are pretty famous with travelers in this region and even a book has been published, which is sort of a collection of images of these road signs. We are sharing the shots we could get from our moving vehicle during our road trip to Nubra Valley from Leh.
Himank is a special project by BRO to specially maintain the roads for three passes: Khardungla, Tanglangla and Changla.
That is definitely some smart work by BRO! Ending this post with a quote that has become very popular in Leh (owing to Aamir Khan’s 3 IDIOTS) and seems to be omnipresent in the Leh scene today!
Kumbh is a great once-in-a-lifetime experience. For a photographer, more so. With such a huge gathering of people, you are bound to find interesting characters. But what makes for the best shots are the Sadhus at Kumbh Mela. The Sadhus and Naga babas were one of the main reasons we wanted to visit the Kumbh Mela. This post contains some of our shots from the Kumbh Mela.
These two Sadhus were in a happy mood and smoking ganja. Check out their chillum smoking shots in our attached ebook.
As you progress towards the Akhada camps, you can spot numerous Sadhus camped up along the route. Most of them ask for money in exchange for blessing their devotees.
Some Sadhus are private people who do not like talking to people, some like to charge for being photographed. There are a rare few who are plain happy and love to be photographed.
If you are interested in viewing more such shots from our Kumbh Mela visit, subscribe below and get a free copy!
India is supposed to have the third largest concentration of rock art, after Australia and Africa! And yet how many of us have actually heard of these rock art sites, let alone visit one? It does go to show the need to educate people about India’s pre-historic heritage as well as popularize these sites.
While researching about the pre-historic rock art in India, I realized that they are spread across most parts of India: Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, North East, Kashmir etc and yet it was difficult to find information about these sites on State tourism sites. The only information we found were research journals or papers published by Indian historians or researchers. For a traveler, the reports are pretty technical. Also the actual sites are not easily accessible and sometimes hard to find even.
What is Pre-Historic?
We do not want this to be a history lesson but just want to give readers an idea of what we want to convey here. So trying to explain relevance of some technical terms in easily understandable language.
Pre-historic literally means something so old that it precedes recorded history. It would denote an era when there would most probably be no written language, and hence we can learn about these time periods only by other forms like sculptures, carvings, pottery, weapons or art/paintings.
Pre-historic era is divided between different time periods:
•Palaeolithic Age: Early Stone Age; Before 10,000 BC, marked by introduction of basic stone tools
• Mesolithic Age: Middle Stone Age; 10,000 to 5000 BC
• Neolithic Age : New Stone Age; Beginnings of farming
What is a Rock Art?
Rock art is a form of painting or carving that is done on massive rocks or caves as a canvas. Since in ancient times, people lived inside caves and had huge rock formations around them, it can be assumed that they took up painting or carving (using natural colors from leaves and flowers) as something to pass their time.
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Rock art from the pre-historic times are extremely useful in understanding an era of which there is no written record. We can learn a lot about the beliefs of the people, any kind of rituals that they followed, the type of animals found in the area, etc. The most popular Indian rock art is from Ajanta and Ellora, which although ancient are not from pre-historic times.
Bhimbhetka : UNESCO World Heritage Site
The most well-preserved and probably most popular amongst the India pre-historic rock art are those in Bhimbhetka near Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh). The rock shelters and cave paintings have been accorded a World Heritage Site status, and have been quite well-maintained by the Archaeological Society of India (ASI).
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There are official guides available who can give you a tour of the site. There are elaborate paintings like the “Zoo Rock” which shows paintings from various eras layered over one another. The paintings evolve from being mere stick figures to elaborate depictions of rituals and war scenes.
Other Madhya Pradesh Rock Art Sites
Madhya Pradesh has a large number of recorded rock painting sites including Shamala hills, Pachmarhi, Panna and Rewa. Dr Meenakshi Dubey Pathak is recognized to have done a lot of research and fieldwork around these sites.
Anegundi, near Hampi (Karnataka)
Before our trip to Hampi we had read about the cave paintings in Anegundi and made it a point to visit them. It was a real task to find the location as the guides weren’t fully aware of them. There are no signs that guide you to the cave paintings site and you are left to the complete mercy of the guide. The approach to the caves is through paddy fields and then trekking up some barren boulder-laden areas. Right up until you reach the caves, you can never tell there are these paintings hidden in these fields.
There are two sets of cave paintings located opposite to each other. The caretaker does not speak English, so understanding the paintings is difficult. We wrote about the cave paintings in a separate post on Hampi.
Recently there have been reports of some unusual cave paintings found in Kanker district of Chhattisgarh. These paintings have been dated to at least 10000 years back. Archaeologist Bhagat involved in researching this site has hypothesised that people from these regions might have been in contact with alien civilizations! Taking a look at the cave paintings sure will make you believe so!
It is believed that there are many such rocks hidden in the forests all over the state. The Chhattisgarh State Department of Archaeology and Culture is supposedly planning to get in touch with NASA and Indian space agency to explore further, if reports are to be believed.
The theory about Ancient Aliens is not new. We have been really fascinated by these theories where certain section of researchers and historians believe that certain structures like the Pyramids or Stonehenge were built with the help of aliens, and pre-historic man was in close contact with aliens. Whether you believe in this theory or not, it does make for some interesting stories! It is the first time that we have heard about Ancient Aliens theory in India, and its fascinating!
Another archaeologist Hari Singh Chhatri has reportedly found unique rock art from dense forests of Korba, which he believes to be from the period of the Ramayana.
Rest of India
There are several other pre-historic rock painting sites showcasing art from tens of thousands of years back. Some other sites that find mention but have not been on the tourist map:
Note: The most consolidated information that I could find on the rock paintings of India was with the Bradshaw Foundation.
We definitely will be planning to visit many of these sites in the future, and hope the ASI and state tourism boards try to assimilate these sites in the Tourism maps and websites, giving history-lovers like us a new aim to explore this different side of India.
Disclaimer: We are not experts in the field of archaeology or history. We are just making an effort to make the masses aware of India’s unique pre-historic locations.
Holi in India, as we know is widely popular. The colors, the festivities, the food and the fun, the complete package. During our childhoods, we used to play with our pichkaris (water pistols), for hours together and splash water balloons at friends. As we grew older, we realized that people indulge themselves in different kind of ‘celebration’ by getting high on Bhaang, which is almost synonymous with Holi nowadays. Well, as long as it’s for fun and does not harm others.
Last year, the day of Holi festival in India was the culmination of our epic 10 day road trip which we took from Mumbai to Hampi and back. Early in the morning we left from our Hotel in Badami towards Koyna in Maharashtra for a pit stop before we proceeded for Mumbai the next day. As soon as we left the small town of Badami, we were greeted with spectacular views of the boulder shaped mountains which are typical of the region, and along with those views we were greeted by some hooligans on the highways. Not once, Not twice, Not thrice…more than 10 times.
They were ‘celebrating’ Holi in their own fashion, stopping all vehicles on the highway using large stones, boulders and even barbed wires on the highway. And once the cars, stop asking money to buy some booze or Bhaang for celebrating more. We stopped once, tried to maneuver our car slowly around the rocks and at the same time not heeding to their request of giving money. Second time around, we politely refused again in sign language as we were scared to pull down our car windows, seeing the drunk angry mob of men. When we used to pull our car away from the roadblocks without giving them money, they angrily threw stones at our car.
After a point of time, we were just furious! They were not kids, not teenagers high on festivities. They were middle aged men, with no common sense or respect. All they wanted was money from strangers for their booze.. and all in the name of such a beautiful, pious festival of Holi.
There is a saying in India – ‘Bura na mano, Holi hai’, which means – ‘do not mind anything, as its Holi’. Well, there is a limit to it. If someone is hurting us, our families, throwing rocks at our car and making all possible efforts to ruin a wonderful road trip; I will mind! Post this incident, we decided not to take any road trips during the Holi time in India. I still want the memories of Holi festival to be fun filled with colors and food, and would want to stay away from any unpleasant incidents.
This International Women’s Day there has been a lot of talk over gender equality. In our last post for Women’s Day we talked about everyday ordinary women. This post is about a group of women also called Sadhavis (holy women) or Sanyasins (women who have renounced the world) whom we met at the Nashik Kumbh.
Before leaving for the Nashik Kumbh I had read in the papers that the Sadhavis were asking for a separate Akhada and a separate location to stay exclusively for women. But their request was denied. We were pretty interested to see how did they then manage to attend the Kumbh and where did they stay exactly!
As we set about in search of the female ascetics at Trimbakeshwar, we came to immediately understand that the locals did not know much about them. Even our experienced guide could not tell where the Sadhavis were staying. But we were determined to find some of them and talk to them if possible. Our guide explained to us that the Sadhus weren’t much into talking and we might have to shell out some money to photograph them. We had somewhat of a different experience. Probably having a female photographer helped!
The first two Sadhavis we spotted (Mahanta Maya Giri ji and Mahant Prem Giri ji) were seated along with two Naga Sadhus inside a hand-built tent. The Sadhus were pretty interested in being photographed and wanted to chat with us but the Sadhavis weren’t much of talkers. They just observed us as the Sadhus carried on with some poses for the cameras. Slowly as we started to chat a bit more, all of them got pretty comfortable with us. They invited us for some tea and even offered us to share their tent if we needed to stay back at Trimbakeshwar for the night.
This interaction made us a bit more confident for our next encounters. The next two Sadhavis we came across, Mahant Shanti ji and Mahant Leela Giri ji, were again sitting in a tent with another Juna Akhada Sadhu (not a Naga). This time we were much more comfortable from the beginning and so were they. The ladies called me into their tent and we share some stories about Madhya Pradesh, as they were both from the state. They told us how they will be spending the whole of 2016 visiting the different Kumbhs and staying at each location for about two to three months. They also gave us tips on where we could get a better photo of the Naga babas, for eg the bhandaras in the morning were a good place to spot the different babas like Jata wale baba (Baba with dreadlocks), Goggle wale baba (Baba who always wears a sunglass), etc.
One interesting thing was none of them wanted to share their names when we started to chat but as they became more comfortable and we gained their trust, at the end of the conversation, they divulged their ascetic given names.
The most interesting thing we noted in our interactions was the part about gender equality. If you note their names, they are called Mahants, which although we would consider a male title, is neutrally used for both women and male ascetics. The “Giri” in the name is one of the four Juna Akhada titles: Giri, Puri, Bharati and Saraswati. The Sadhavis are not treated differently when given their ascetic names.
Also, when we asked the Sadhavis about their living situation they were pretty happy sharing tents with their “brothers” from the Juna Akhada (the oldest akhada). When we asked them about the demands of Sadhavis for a separate Akhada and living area, they did say they had heard of it but even if that happened they would still stay with their “brothers”.
It was a pity we could not meet with other Sanyasins who did not belong to the Juna Akhada to get the complete picture. There definitely is a lot more to it with the struggles of the Pari Akhada for a separate akhada at the Ujjain Kumbh. Also there is so much we cannot learn in such a small amount of time. Still, the interactions did open our eyes to a small part of the Sadhavis‘ worlds and it was an interesting experience.
Most of us have seen at least one woman in our lives who has struggled, or is still struggling, to achieve balance juggling between her job and her family. She was a superwoman – cooked, cleaned, fed, washed at home, after working 9 to 5 and performing pretty well at her job! Though we have a long way to go, we do see things changing, with more support pouring in from our families, spouses and colleagues.
When we started to take road trips across India, we came to see a very different side in rural sections of India. When we speak of equality for women – sharing the workload at home, equal pay at work, better job opportunities – we often forget about the rural parts of India. Women from certain sections of the society are expected to work on the fields and help provide for the family, and then return home and do the cooking, cleaning, washing with no help from the men of the family.
This International Women’s Day, we are sharing pictures of some such inspirational women from our travel diaries, who represent all those women who never get appreciated for their overwhelming efforts all their lives.
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We can debate a lot on women should fight for equality, education, healthcare etc etc. Yes we definitely need all that, especially for the economically less privileged. But for now we are in complete awe of these women! These ordinary women who are showing extraordinary strength to provide for themselves and their families are an inspiration. The very fact that they do not let any adversity let them down in life is an inspiration.
Cheers to all these women and their unsung heroic lives!
Ravana Phadi cave temple at Aihole is a great example of Chalukyan temple architecture. During the 6th century, the early Chalukyans experimented with cave temples. The Ravana Phadi cave temple is primarily is a Shiva temple.
Every Shiva temple has a Nandi positioned right opposite the Shiva linga.
There are brilliant carvings of various gods and goddesses on the interior walls of the cave temple. There is one of the Nataraja (Dancing Shiva) with Gauri and Ganesha by his side.
There is one of a rather scary meditating sage. At first it looks like a skeleton, but when you look closely you see that the representation seems of a sage who has been doing Tapasya (meditation) since ages, going by the lean skeletal figure and the strange pose he is standing in.
There is a figure of a Goddess, who looks like one of the forms of Durga.
Although the Ravana Phadi is a Shiva temple, there is a figure of the Varaha avatar of Vishnu. Chalukyas encouraged worship of both Shiva and Vishnu. Varaha appears on their royal seal as well.
There are other celestial figures as well sculpted on the walls in intricate detail.
There is so much you can learn from a trip on the road than from your textbooks. I never hated history, in fact I loved reading about the various rulers and kingdoms across India. I had read about the Chalukyas in history books and their contribution to South Indian temple architecture, but looking at these beautiful works of art is a different experience.
During our Mumbai-Hampi road trip, we made our way back through Aihole – Pattadakal – Badami. Our first stop was Aihole, a village in Karnataka. There are almost 120 temples scattered in and around the village. It’s pretty difficult covering that many, but there are some that are accessible and can be covered easily. To understand Aihole, one has to first understand its history, which is mainly the Chalukyas.
The Chalukyas were a dynasty of Indian rulers primarily ruling parts of Southern and Central India, mostly between the 6th and 12th centuries. The early Chalukyas were based out of Badami. They worshipped both Shiva and Vishnu, but Jainism was also encouraged. Badami and Aihole were early centers of learning.
The Chalukyan era was a golden age for South India, due to development in the field of architecture which came to be known as “Chalukyan architecture” and also influenced the “Dravidian architecture”.
Aihole Temple Complex
Aihole saw the evolution of Chalukyan architecture, starting from cave temples to constructed temple structures. The Aihole Temple complex houses the most number of temples and displays a good variety of architectural styles to illustrate the Chalukya era architecture and experimentation.
We hadn’t read anything about the Chalukyas worshiping Goddess Durga. Hence we were pretty excited to see the Durga temple. After doing a complete tour of the temple and searching every nook and corner, we were disappointed and surprised to find not a single Durga idol or reference. Perplexed we went to the Karnataka Tourism Information board right outside to understand what was going on. And we found our answer – “This is not the temple of Goddess Durga, but addressed so due to its vicinity to the fort (Durga)…”! “Durg” or “Durga” is a hindi word for a “Fort”. Well, that solved the puzzle.
The temple has a unique architecture. It is a good example of the architectural experimentation that the Chalukyas worked on in this region. The back of the temple is shaped like the behind of an elephant. This architecture style resembles the Indian Parliament design.
The temple was earlier a Surya temple (Sun temple) and later converted into a Shiva temple. The Mantapa and pillars are adorned by various designs and figures of gods (Vishnu, Shiva, Varaha avatar, etc). There are some scenes from the Ramayana as well.
Lad Khan Temple
This is the oldest temple in this complex. It was named after a person residing in the temple when it was discovered. This also was initially a Surya temple which was later converted to a Shiva temple. This temple was presumably used in the Early Chalukya times for various rituals and religious functions.
This temple’s design is completely different from Durga temple. It has more of a rectangular structure, with pillars instead of walls on the exterior. This temple is one of the earlier experimentation here. There are not many adornments or forms on the pillars, except for some floral pattern.
Other temples in the complex include the Gaudaragudi and Suryanarayana Gudi temples.
This is one of the oldest and finest cave temples in Aihole. It is visibly a Shiva temple with a Shiva linga inside the inner sanctum. There are various intriguing figures lining the cave’s interiors, including a dancing Shiva (Nataraja) beside Ganesh and Parvati. There is a Nandi right outside the cave’s entrance as is symbolic of all Shiva temples, right opposite to the Shiva Linga.
Do not be mislead by the temple names. Most temples in Aihole do not bear their original names. When they were discovered, local villagers were living in them. Thus they were named based on their location, name of person residing in temple, etc.
The interiors of the temples are not lit, hence quite dark, albeit clean. It takes time to adjust to the low-light interiors. Also isn’t good for taking pictures without flash 🙁
You would generally need at least two days to cover all the three places.
This place hasn’t yet received much recognition on the Indian tourism circuit. I guess the major issue with the area would be non-availability of any hotels, decent restaurants and reliable modes of transportation. But the Badami-Pattadakal-Aihole circuit does make for a good road trip for even the mildly adventurous lot!
Avoid visiting during noon as it gets extremely hot.
Monsoons are on their way back, and people are looking to enjoy the most of their weekends with long drives and escapades to places around Mumbai. When we think of short-drive destinations from Mumbai, during monsoons, the first thoughts are Lonavala & Khandala, followed by smaller destinations in the Western Ghats. A quaint little town that is missed by many is Daman.
Here is my take on why you should definitely take a road trip to Daman before the monsoons are over.
The drive itself: The drive from Mumbai to Daman takes you through NH-8. The road is extremely well maintained and because of monsoons you get great enchanting views of various shades of green along the road. There is no crowd and no jams on the road as lesser people take this route, than to Lonavala & Khandala. Even when you leave the National Highway and turn into the State Highway, the road though not as broad as the NH, is even more beautiful with trees lined on both sides. There is even lesser traffic on the SH. Just taking a drive to Daman, will make you happy.
Nani Daman Fort Entrance
Forts: As soon as you enter Daman, you come across the fortified city area, where most administrative offices are housed. This is the ‘Moti Daman’ area, which literally means Greater Daman. The fortified structure, black in color and devoid of any carvings, makes its presence felt and fills you with awe. As you cross the Daman Ganga river, you also get a view of a smaller fort nearer the sea, the Nani Daman Fort. ‘Nani Daman’ literally translates to Smaller Daman. This fort again is devoid of too many carvings, other than the one at the entrance which gives it a grand feel.
Nani Daman Fort Area
View of Nani Daman Jetty from Fort
Moti Daman Fort Section
Colors of Moti Daman: As you enter the fortified Moti Daman area, you are greeted with a bright happy yellow colored building. And as you drive down, various different colored buildings follow. The colors and the architecture of the houses reminded me of Fontainhas area of Goa, which also was under Portuguese influence. Most of the major administrative offices of Daman are housed in this section of the city.
Moti Daman Colors
Portuguese heritage: Apart from the forts and the multi-colored houses, there is more to the city that gives you an indication of its Portuguese heritage. The churches in Daman also provide an indication of Portuguese influence in this area. Basilica of Bom Jesus is a popular tourist destination in the Moti Daman area. Apart from that as you roam around the old city and market area, you come across several old houses that take you back in time.
Basilica Bom Jesus
Our Lady Of The Sea Church
Peaceful luxury stay options: Daman is a place where you can just relax over the weekend and the various resort options in the Devka beach area provide comfortable stays with in-house restaurants, beach view rooms, swimming pools and spa options as well. We stayed at The Gold Beach Resort, and had an extremely relaxing weekend. The rooms provided a direct view of the swimming pool and sea. Had the beach been a bit more beautiful, the resort could have given touch competition to luxury resorts of international beach destinations.
Gold Beach Resort
Do not expect great beaches in Daman. The beaches here are very rocky and consist of black soil.
Basilica of Bom Jesus is closed during lunch hours. Check opening hours before visiting.
You will find many shacks and some beach activities at Jampore beach. I found the shack kitchens extremely clean, considering that a lot of fish is cooked there. Also the shacks have to exhibit their licenses provided by the Tourism Department, which provides some sense of security while eating there.
While driving to and from Daman, you would want to take a break. As NH8 has a lot of trucks and other heavy vehicles plying, most restaurants and dhabas are neither very family-friendly nor clean. On both sides the route, there’s Vithal Kamat restaurant providing decent food options and clean toilets.
I have been a history aficionado since I was young. My mom being a history teacher, we have grown up loving our history books, discussing the Harappan civilization at home and discovering places of historical importance during our travels. Yet, before visiting Bhimbhetka, I never knew that we actually had rock paintings from the Stone Age, right here in the center of India!
The Bhimbhetka caves are located 45 km from Bhopal. They have been declared a World Heritage Site and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) have done a really good job maintaining the caves in a good condition. There are guides available at the entrance and there are details of the site available near the main entrance.
Although there are around 700 rock shelters in this area, not all are open to the tourists. They are spread across a forest area. As you enter, you can see various interesting rock formations, that illustrate the magic of erosion over several thousand centuries.
The Auditorium rock shelter is one unique formation that the guides generally point out. This shelter was probably used in ancient times as a gathering area or auditorium, and hence the name.
At the end of the Auditorium shelters, there are unique cup marks. These marks are supposed to be dated nearly 10,000 years back!!
As you move through the path with your guide, you will come across several caves. These were used as shelters by the ancient man.
The paintings are seen in different colors: white and red being the most popular, followed by some yellow and green. The guide explained that they depict different periods in time. The white ones seem to be the oldest. On observing carefully, you can make out that the white ones look more primitive in their designs. The drawing patterns improve with the reds.
This particular pattern is pretty elaborate, showing the men carrying weapons and riding horses. There is one man (probably the chief) riding an ornately decorated horse. There seems to be some celebration with people playing drums around.
There are places where you can see a mix of paintings in various colors, done on top of each other. One of the most popular must-visit spot is the Zoo rock shelter.
The Zoo Rock Shelter supposedly contain the most number of animal paintings on one rock. The paintings here date back from the Mesolithic to the Medieval ages. You can see spotter deer, antelopes, elephant and other cattle in white.
The red paintings of the Zoo shelter show human forms with bows and arrows, and some other forms of weaponry probably.
There is an interesting patch of paintings which, very distinctly, show a stationary and a flying peacock, as well as a snake.
Another point of interest is the Mythical Boar. You will understand why it is termed as “mythical”, when you see its size in comparison with the humans drawn beside it. Since no remains of an animal of such proportions have ever been found, this painting is believed to be a work of fiction. Probably the first creative fiction story ever!
But the one painting that really left a mark on me, was of a human palm. Someone, who existed some thousands of years ago, left an imprint of his hand (left hand to be precise) behind, giving us a story to think of. For that person, it was probably a pastime, just scribbling away with paint. But in that ONE painting (I believe) ‘She’ literally left her mark behind.
“Bhimbhetka” or “Bhimbethika” : The Mahabharatha connection
The locals talk of the original name of this place being Bhim-Bethika, meaning the seat of Bhima (One of the Pandavas). There are forest areas, not very far away from Bhimbhetka, that are named “Lakhajur”. Locals tell stories that this was the place where the Lakshagrah was built for the Pandavas.
In the Mahabharatha, the Kauravas try to kill the Pandavas by building a palace for them made entirely of Lac (which is highly flammable) in the woods. When Kauravas think that the Pandavas are deeply in sleep inside the palace, they set it on fire. But the Pandavas are already aware of the Kauravas’ plan and escape.
The forest trail that takes you around the caves is narrow, pebbly and rugged. So be sure to wear good walking shoes.
The trail might not be comfortable for people with knee or leg pains.
Entry to the rock shelters is closed a little before sundown as there is no artificial lighting available. Plan your travel properly.
It is best to hire a car, if you are traveling from Bhopal.
If you can make a one-day trip from Bhopal, you can cover Bhimbhetka and Bhojpur. Bhojpur is famous for its Shiva temple and connection to the Pandavas.