Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Manali, Himachal

My next place to explore was in Himalayan ranges. The place called Manali, in the beautiful state of Himachal pradesh. I am always inspired by the magnanimity and legendary stories, facts about Himalayas. Always loved to visit many places in its ranges. Finally I started off with Manali. We planned a trip to Manali on April 2009. One of my friends was in Gurgaon at that time. Me and one of my friend travelled from chennai to delhi and joined our friend at Gurgaon.

There are lots of travel agencies which arrange buses from Delhi to Manali straight away. From delhi we have to travel 14 hrs to reach Manali. We boarded the bus at delhi on 11th April 5 PM and reached Manali by 12th morning 8 AM. From the moment we enter the state of Himachal pradesh, I loved the each and every sight. The roads to reach Manali were not having any hair pin bends or steep climbs. The roads were built parallel to the river Beas, its a smooth climb and the sceneries through window were awesome as below.

12th April 2009

Vashisht Temple
Vashisht temple has a hot spring water pool. Many people take a dip in that for its healing effects. The artistic work on the temples wooden construction were splendid.

Hadimba Devi Temple

This is the temple which comes in Roja movie. The Temple resides amidst the deodar trees forest. This place is related to epic Mahabharatha.
Hadimba devi is the mother of the giant Gadorgajan. He was born to Bhima and Hadimbadevi. This temple is dedicated to that mother of Gadorgaja, who gave birth to such a mighty son.

The place around the temple had a great soothing effect. We took a walk through the deodar forest with a cool breeze embracing us all the time.

The view as we came out of Hadimba devi temple was splendid the climate and snowy peaks in our sight welcomed us for a great experience.

Buddhist Monastery

This monastery was built in Tibetan architecture. It has many deities of buddism and very huge statue of budha. To take a snap with him we need to climb up the stairs and reach first floor of the monastery.

Thus ended the first day of our trip at manali. But the actual day began after 8 P.M. Many people know what I mean here. The room we stayed became the dance floor and we had a good teacher's and Davidoff for company.

13th April 2009

Well this is the most adventurous day in my life till now. Know what!!! we did para gliding and sking at Solang valley. That was a life time experience for me, though the para gliding lasted for just 3 minutes, I can never forget the thrill and fun I got out of it, flying at an height of 1000m above the valley gazing the himalayan peaks from an eagle's view was an awesome experience.

Then we went to a place called Gulmarg where we have place for skiing safely for beginners. This place was the peak of our trip. We enjoyed the snowy peaks, padded with the skiing boot and trying out the basics in skiing. An ultimate experience of being surrounded by snow clad peaks.

Those were the unforgettable moments on the peaks of himalayas . . .

We rocked the world . . .

14th April 2009

Well this day was in exact contrast of what was the day before . . . We visited the Holy temple of Manikaran. Legend says this is the place where goddess parvati, the consort of lord shiva lost a valuble jewel in the river flowing in that place and shiva ordered the nagas to find it back . . . the nagas dug hole deep into earth to find the jewels and hot water sprung through each hole bringing out many precious stones . . . This place is having many hot water springs through out the temple. The water is hot enough to cook rice, when a pot with rice is just dipped into it for few minutes.

15th April 2009

This day in my life gave me a shocking experience . . . Guess what !! We were robbed . . .

When I woke up I heard voices from the other room, my friends were speaking of something . . . and the words were 'someone, thief, stole everything' these were the words which woke me up that morning and to our shock we found that someone has opened our hotel room's window from outside and robbed our belongings . . . except for the Digicam which had the memories . . . Well first time I was a victim of such big theft . . Though we lost many valuble stuffs I cant forget one line which my pal told that day . . . After the Manali police came and investigated the crime and all is over, we were just having a talk and this guy he said "Bloody fellows they stole my jeans, how am i going to get a similar one like that, it will take time for me to choose a similar one" . . . well there is this guy who has lost his K850i Sony ericsson mobile and he said nothing . . . Even today we laugh over this untimely dialogue of his . . .

Those were the splendid, beautiful and terrific four days in my life filled with all variety of experiences.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Mahabalipuram & Thirukazhukundram

In 2008 all the 3 trips were very exciting. In 2009 my travels started with spiritual tours. In the past 3 months in 2009 I went to Thirupathi, Thirukazhukundram, Thanjavur, Kumbakonam and Mayavaram.

This post I am going to tell my experiences on my trip to Thirukazhukundram. This place also known as Eagle City in english has a very old high spiritual history.

Thiru Kazhugukundram is its actual name. The sthala puram(Legendary stories about this place and has evidence till date) is as told below.

There are many legends about Thirukazhukundram. According to one Hindu legend, eight Brahmaputras/rishis of the Hindu pantheon prayed to Lord Siva in order to achieve Sarupya Mukti (wherein a departed soul acquires the form of the Lord). But when Lord Shiva appeared before them to grant the boon, they changed their minds and asked for Sayujya mukti (which means oneness with the Lord or merging with the Supreme Brahman). Enraged by their deceit, Lord Shiva cursed them to be born as eagles. When they begged forgiveness, Lord Shiva gave them some liberation from the curse. They were to be born as holy eagles, two in each yugam (an epoch of the Hindu calendar) and attain Sayujya mukti by worshiping him sincerely. Thus it is believed that out of the eight Brahmaputras Sandan, Prasandan, Sampathi, Jatayu, Samburuthan, Maguthan have already attained their wish by being born as eagles and worshipping the Lord.

It is believed that ,the remaining two Brahmaputras/Rishis Boosha and Vithatha, are the two eagles that have been visiting Thirukazhukundram daily since time immemorial, in order to worship Shiva and obtain salvation from His curse. It is said that after a bath in the Ganges in the morning, they come here at noon for food, reach Rameswaram in the evening for darshan and return to Chidambaram for the night.

The town is also known as Pakshi theertham because of these eagle visits. It has also been known as Uruthrakodi, Nandipuri, Indrapuri, Narayanapuri, Brahmapuri, Dinakarapuri, Muniganapuri in the past.

Each name has its own legend. From this history we can understand how old this temple is and how its name has been changing from time to time.

There are 3 Sivan temples in this Thirukazhukundram town. First temple is Vedagiriswarar on hill top. According to tradition, the four Vedas, Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharvana, are seen here in the shape of four boulders, placed one above the other, with Lord Siva as Vedagiriswarar, emerging from the head of the fourth Veda, Atharvana. Hence the place gets the name Vedagiri, where the presiding deity on the hilltop is Vedagiriswarar.

Above image shows VedaGiriswarar temple From foot of the hill.

The hill covering an area of 265 acres is 500 feet high and the hilltop can be reached by ascending 562 well-laid stone slabs. On the way there are small mandapams, for pilgrims to rest. The steps and the walls on the sides have been built from donations. For the infirm and the aged, dholis carried by two persons are available at nominal charges.

Before ascending the steps, the devotees worship Siddharti Vinayaka and Ayyappa at the foot of the hill. The central shrine of the temple where the presiding deity Vedagiriswarar is seen is built of three large boulders, constituting the three walls for the sanctum. Vedagiriswarar is a swayambu lingam.

Vedagiriswarar was worshipped by Indra, Thillothama (a dancer in Indra's court), Garuda (mount of Vishnu), Ashtavasus and many Rudras. He has been praised in the songs and verses of the four great Tamil saints — Appar, Sambandar, Sundaramurthi and Manickavasagar. The inner walls of the sanctum contain many images, all hewn out of the rock surrounding the presiding deity. In the enclosure around the sanctum, are the shrines of Goddess Sokkanayaki and Vinayaka (in a dancing pose).

After a darshan of Vedagiriswarar, devotees eagerly await the arrival of the eagles just before noon. They wait in large numbers at a shed specially erected for the purpose. After cleaning a particular spot on the adjacent boulder, the temple priest sits down, with the food (sakkarai pongal). Two eagles, after circling around temple top, come near the priest walking. They eat the balls of rice and after cleaning their beaks in the water kept in a small vessel nearby, take off, circle around the tower again and fly off. This has been going on for centuries now. The scene is sculpted on one of the walls in front of Goddess Tirupurasundari, in the lower temple.

After descending a few steps on the other side, a monolithic cave-temple is seen. This mandapam is full of rare sculptures and belongs to the Mamalla period (A.D. 610-640). There are two verandahs in the cave, each being supported by four massive pillars.

In the lower one, there are two life-size statues, decorated with ornaments. In the upper verandah, there is a huge lingam with figures of Brahma and Vishnu on either side. The peculiarity is that the whole mandapam with sculptures is hewn out of a single rock. Hence this cave is known as Orukkal Mandapam.

On the eastern side, at the foot of the hill, there is a small shrine Nalvar Koil, from where the four Tamil saints — Appar, Sundarar, Sambandar and Manickavasagar — had darshan of Vedagiriswarar. The Consort of Vedagiriswarar is not seen on the hilltop. She is enshrined in the temple of Bakthavatsaleswarar at the centre of the town.

The temple has four gopurams (towers), the tallest with nine tiers (on the southern side) and the other three with seven tiers.

In the prakaram of the temple, the tank, Nandi Thirtham, is located. It has a huge Nandi (mount of Siva), facing Vedagiriswarar on the hilltop. The absence of a Nandi before the presiding deity on the hilltop is a unique feature.

The Nandi once undertook penance on the Earth. Pleased, Siva appeared before him and told him to ask for a boon. The Nandi desired that the place and the tank be named after him and asked that those taking a dip in the tank and worshipping Vedagiriswarar be absolved of their sins. His prayer was granted and hence the place is also known as Nandipuram and the tank, Nandi Thirtham.

The mahamandapam that fringes the inner gopuram (Rishi Gopuram) contains a fine sculptural representation of Agora Veerabhadra (Siva in ferocious form), a colossal figure seven feet high. A similar image can be seen at the Meenakshi temple in Madurai.

Bhaktawastsaleswarar Temple

The prakaram around the sanctum of the secomd temple Bakthavatsaleswarar (the presiding deity of the 2nd temple which is down not on the hill) has many images. The shape of the vimanam of the temple is peculiar, resembling the Buddhist viharas in the North, since the spherical top portion is cut in front. It was here that Lord Siva appeared before the Tamil saint Manickavasagar, in the form of Dakshinamurthi, and initiated him into the secrets of the holy Panchaksharam. The plantain tree is the sthala vriksham of the temple.

Goddess Tirupurasundari has a special shrine. Around the sanctum engraved on marble slabs fixed on the walls, are verses from the "Abhirami Andhathi.

Sangu Thirtham.

Not far away, but opposite to this temple is the sacred tank Sangu Thirtham. It is an extensive tank of 1,000 square yards area, with wide steps on all sides. It is believed that Saint Markandeya, came down here after visiting Benares. He wished to have a bath in the sacred tank and perform abhishekam to the Siva lingam here but he found no vessel to take the water. Just then a conch suddenly emerged from the tank, with a humming sound, and Markandeya performed the abhishekam. It is said that even now once in 12 years, a conch emerges from this water, which the temple authorities collect with all honours and preserve in the temple.

There is a collection of about 1,000 conches in this temple, with which, abhishekam is performed to Lord Vedagiriswarar on the last Monday in the Tamil month of Karthigai. The conch last appeared in the tank in 1986.

According to the sthalapuranam, Lord Siva Himself has declared that this tank is the holiest of all, and as per His command, all the sacred waters in India meet here once in 12 years when Guru (Jupiter) enters Kanya rasi. The event is conducted as a festival — Sangu Thirtha Pushkara Mela — when there is a huge gathering from all parts of the country — this being the second biggest bathing festival in the South, next to the Maha Makham.

It is believed that the hill has innumerable medicinal herbs and plants and therefore the cool breeze is said to cure ailments.

The third temple is Rudrakoteeswarar. This is also a very ancient swaymbu lingam. Its sthala puram is as below. MANY KNOW the hill temple of Vedagiriswarar in Pakshitheertham, more popularly known as Thirukazhu(gu)kundram, but not all would be aware that an equally important and even more ancient temple of Rudrakoteeswarar exists at the foot of the hills, apart from the Bhaktavatsalar temple there.

It is said to be 1,700 years old, the Lord in the temple is known as Rudrakoteeswarar. According to legend, the celestial beings who could not bear the torture of the demons, prayed to Lord Siva, who made one crore Rudras emerge from His body to destroy the demons. The Rudras, after finishing the task assigned to them, worshipped the Lord and got merged in His heart.

An ancient poem, inscribed in the inner wall of the temple says, while Kasi (Benares), Thiruvarur, Chidambaram, Thiruvannamalai, Kanchi, Kalahasti and Madurai formed the body of Lord Siva the Koteeswarar Temple at Rudrakoti or Rudrankoil is His heart. According to Saiva Siddhanta, Rudra is the presiding deity of one of the five elements of Nature — Fire. Rudra is referred to in the Vedas, not as a sectarian deity, but as the Supreme Lord, who guides the Universe from one level of perfection to the higher one. Sri Rudram, which forms part of the Upanishads, speaks of the glory of Rudra and says that the Lord is always pleased with obeisance and it offers salutations to Him many times. Praying to Rudrakoteeswarar at this temple continuously during 16 Pradoshams, would rid one of ailments of the heart, hypertension, diabetes and also problems caused by planetary changes. The Vedas also speak about the presence of 11 Rudras and their consorts, 11 Rudranis. Of the 108 Sakthi Peetams, the 24th is considered to be Rudrakoti's Sakthi. Devi Bhagavatham says that She adorns the Rudrani Peetam. It is believed that praying to Her at the temple on nine full moon days helps a devotee unite in wedlock, lead a happy family life and be free from all afflictions.

The Rudrakoteeswarar Temple, where the name of the Goddess is Rudrani, (also known as Abhirami Nayaki) has a five-tier Rajagopuram. The tower was in a dilapidated condition, but due to the effort of devotees, four tiers, besides the Kalkaram, have been renovated. The flooring around the prakaram outside the sanctum sanctorum has been newly laid. The superstructure above the Nandimandapam has been rebuilt.

The shrine of the Goddess is situated on the left side and She looks southwards through an opening on the temple wall towards the Kali Temple at Vattaparai (circular rock), situated at some distance. The temple also has shrines for Dakshinamurthi, Vinayaka and Subramania with His consorts, the Thevaram trio — Appar, Sundarar and Gnanasambandar — and also Manickavasagar. While in the Siva temples the image of Lingodhbavar is found on the western side of the sanctum sanctorum, here one can find the image of Mahavishnu with Varada Hastham. The Lingam is a swayambu — not sculpted by anyone.

It was Feb 7th 2009 I visited this place. It was Sani pradosham along with punarpoosam natchathiram(star) in which I was born. For everybody the day in which their birth star comes is a good day for them to visit temples. A very auspicious day for me to visit these temples and get Lord Shiva's blessings. So after reading all about this place I was very determined to use this opportunity. I planned the day like this. ThiruKazhukundram is 17Km to the west of mahabalipuram. It can be reached via tambaram too. PTC bus no. 108 from tambaram goes to tirukalukunram. The pradosham time is from 4 to 6.30 so its mandatory i should visit the temple at that time. I started from my home by 11.30 AM reached mahabalipuram by 12.45 PM. Mahabalipuram was really entertaining that too with my new camera it gave a nice feast for my photography interest. So i whiled away in mahabalipuram for some time seeing all beautiful sculptures. It was around 3.30 when i waited for the bus to tirukalukunram. Reached there exactly by 4.30 PM. First I visited Rudrakoteeswarar down hill. Participated in the mass worship in the temple. It was really splendid the way the people in these places organize this mass worship. The chantings and events that took place in the temple was really so nice. After a fulfilled worship. I wanted to visit the Vedagiriswarar at top of the hill too. But it was already 6 PM. People were returning back and the temple's main entrance was closed. I felt very bad that after coming this long i am going to miss the darshan of the main deity there. But I didn't want to leave that way so i started climbing the hill with a blind confidence. There were not much lighting and I was all alone while climbing the hill. It was really thrilling once in while one to two will come in the opposite side. So i followed the path from where these people come down. Luckily i reached the back entrance of the temple. Had a nice darshan of the Arthajama abhishekam and felt very happy that i was able to see both the temples. This was my first time experience as a lonely traveler exploring the spiritual and historic places nearby. That day was a fulfilled day in my life. Om Nama Shivaya.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Valparai & Munnar

This time its Valparai and Munnar. When I was planning for a trip near by kerala I researched a lot through web and found many ideas, routes and places to visit. The planning phase of this trip was itself very entertaining for me. Reading about these places and its natural beauty tempted me a lot to go to these places. My initial choice of places were Valparai,Athirampally and Munnar. But due to travel constraints we dropped athirampally. Hope I would see it in my next trip.

This was a four days trip started on Dec 24th Wednesday night 10 Pm and ended on Dec 28th Sunday night and we were totally 11 in number. This was planned only two weeks before our trip date. So we didn't have much options regarding transportation. Finally we hired a tempo traveler right from chennai. It was a journey of 1617 Kms.We planned, but as usual many unexpected changes took place on due course of the trip. We planned to reach valparai by morning but as usual, when a bunch of crazy friends join, who cares about the plan just left the trip to take its own course. Few of my friends were at work till the last moment and one guy was still under pressure because he was not allowed to go by his parents. Everything turned good at the final moment, he finally got permission from his parents and after wrapping up all the issues, it was around 11.30PM when we left olympia tech park chennai where we picked up few more who jus came out of office. The party started in the Tempo Traveler. Had few pit stops in the highways when we reached chengalpet it was 1 AM :) there we found a road side hotel we had a group dinner with parathas, half boil, egg paratha etc. After finishing that midnight dinner When we started from Mamandur a place near chengalpet it was 2.30 AM. So the trip actually started on Thursday :)

We reached Chinna salem enroute to pollachi at morning 7.00 AM. . . Had a pit stop there for tea coffee and breakfast and started to pollachi by 8 AM. We reached Pollachi for lunch around 1 PM. The food was so nice in the hotels in pollachi and we were also surprised by the price. After a nice lunch we started to Valparai. There were many places en route valparai. We visited Aliyar Dam by 4 PM and spent about 1 hr there seeing the scenic view and having first photo session. Then we started to monkey falls. Monkey falls was really cool place. The falls is exactly at the correct height from where we stand so that the force of water is correctly giving a smooth massage to the body. After a boosting shower under the falls. We proceeded further to the top on the way we stopped at the 9th Hair pin bend.

A very beautiful view of the Aliyar dam from the top. Had a photo session there enjoyed the view and started to the top. We reached the top and checked in the room by around 7.30 PM.

The climate was really cool. Not too shivering but perfect cool weather as if the entire place has a controlled Air conditioner.There are many small lodges in valparai. Some of the decent lodges are Green Hills Hotel, JBR Lodge etc... For booking lodges you can visit or Will give you all the details and contact numbers. Food is cheap and best in valparai. We 10 had a feast in Lakshmi Mess in valparai and the bill came to just 300 Rs for all of us we were astonished. Even the people who serve food were so humble and attend everything immediately. Not like the bearers in city hotels.One can observe lots of difference in respect given to people by people over there and in city. That night we played cards and spent sometime went for a night walk and went to sleep.

Next day Friday morning we headed to few beautiful places in valparai.We went to koolangal river, chinnakalar dam and finally reached the Lawson falls. To reach the actual falls we need to cross a small stream of water through a small rope bridge. It will be like a small trek before you reach the falls. The water in the falls was very very cold. We kept our legs in the water for few seconds our legs got frozen and we took it out. It was so cold and freezing. Slowly we managed to take a dip in the water. These waters crosses many medicinal herbs from the mountains and reaches here it was such a refreshing bath. After that tiring trek and swim in the falls. We headed back to the town for lunch.

After that our next plan was to head to munnar. We went down again to udumalaipet to get kerala permit. When we reached udumalaipet it almost became 7 PM. Our plan was to go to munnar through chinnar wild life sanctuary. But we can enjoy the nice views only in the day time. So we thought of staying in udumalaipet. But as usual there was another twist in the plan. We went for a movie 'Abiyum Naanyum' night show in Lathagni theater in udumalaipet. Then waited for sometime in the tempo traveler and started our journey by early morning Saturday 5 AM to munnar through Chinnar wildlife sanctuary. The mountain views were very beautiful and scenic.

Really beautiful forest mountains. There are also chances of seeing some animals en route but our bad luck we didn't see any of them. We should be the first to take the route in the early morning to see some animals. Unfortunately we were able to enjoy only the scenic view of the place and didn't see any wild life.

We visited few beautiful places in munnar and since we wanted to do a day journey while returning we headed back to udumalaipet Saturday night itself. Stayed at Udumalaipet that night and returned back to Chennai on Sunday night. One of the beatiful place in Munnar is Lakkam falls, many will not visit this spot because its en route to chinnar. This falls was also really awesome. Enjoy the scenic clips below and leave your comments please.