Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Nandi Hills

Approximately 60 km from Bangalore, the ancient hill fortress of Nandi Hills makes for an excellent weekend getaway, or a daytrip. Actually, scratch that. Here's a tip: it's best visited on weekdays or early in the morning when it remains free of boisterous crowds. Four rivers -- Arkavathy, Penner, Palar and Ponnaiyar -- are believed to originate in the Nandi Hills complex, which includes a number of surrounding smaller hills. Many of these sources are now dry. It is a popular destination with bird-watchers, trekkers and photographers. The 4850-feet-tall hill was fortified by the 'Tiger of Mysore' Tipu Sultan to hold off British forces until it fell to Lord Cornwallis' forces in 1791. Atop the summit are several buildings including a bungalow that housed Mahatma Gandhi. The monolithic statue of the Nandi bull known locally as Nellikai Basavanna, carved in the Chola style, is 10 feet long and 6 feet tall. Enjoying the solitude that Nandi Hills offered, our photo editor Azhar Mohamed Ali captured their many moods -- wintry dawn, bejewelled dusk and in radiant moonlight. Enjoy these photos and don't forget to submit your own.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Famous Yumthang Valley

Yumthang valley, which one must not miss during Sikkim rhododendron trekking tour, is one of the most picturesque places in the entire world.

A trip to Himalayas is always a memorable experience. The great Himalayas have continued to attract visitors from every place as it has something for everyone; like for adventure sport lovers it has variety of adventures up its sleeves for example rafting, trekking, mountain biking, climbing etc. But often, visitors take to Himalayan trekking expedition to get a closer look at the beauty that nature treks in Himalayas offer like an encounter with Himalaya flowers, rare trees, shrubs and coveted sightings of elusive animals. Hence, it is not wrong to say that one of the prime reasons of undertaking such trekking expeditions is to see nature bloom in all its glory, hence, such nature treks have become extremely popular these days. Below are the top three Himalayan treks that no visitor should miss.

The famous Yumthang valley in North Sikkim lies 140km north of Gangtok. Lachung provides the base for exploration of Yumthang, the valley of flowers. Situated at an altitude of 11800 ft ( 3564m) with a close proximity of Tibet, Yumthang is a unique place where the tree line ends, but rhododendron and primula still bloom covering the whole area in a surreal shade.

Yumthang Valley also offers views of a stunning array of peaks with Pauhunri and Shundu Tsenpa. The best season for visiting the valley starts in late February and continues up to mid June, when thousands of colourful flowers are in full bloom. However, to enjoy a clear sky and brilliant view of snow-capped mountains, the September – December season would be ideal. During the summer months, villagers take their cattle to these heights to graze (a practice known as yaylagpastoralism). In view of increasing number of tourists, there is possibility of environmental degradation in the near future.

The Yumthang Valley has an astounding, over 24 species of Rhododendrons which paint the Valley red in spring. Rhododendrons are shrubs or trees, and different species of Rhododendron cover different large stretches of the Valley. In spring, the Valley looks like a collage of little forests of different colors. The flowering of Rhododendrons is over by May end. During monsoons, starting in June, the Valley blooms with all kinds of tiny Himalayan flowers, like the Primroses, Cinquefoils, Louseworts and Cobra-lilies. This is a much more enchanting scenario, but takes a keen viewer, with an eye for detail, to truly appreciate. A number of hot springs are scattered in the valley providing an unexpected opportunity to feel the warmth of the water even in freezing temperature. Rich in sulphur these springs are believed to have miraculous healing power.

There is no accommodation available at the valley. Visitors may stay at Lachung from where the valley is about an hours drive. Accommodation in Lachung is basic and can not be compared to other destinations in Sikkim. Lachung has been described as the “most picturesque village of Sikkim” by British explorer Joseph Dalton Hooker in his definitive, The Himalayan Journal (1855). Skiing is conducted in Phuni near this town. The region has been opened to tourists during the recent years although trekking is still not allowed. Tourism infrastructure in the area is still very basic but fast improving. The road to Yumthang from Gangtok follows the Teesta River, crossing a spectacular gorge over the Rang Rang suspension bridge. The last major town is Chungthang about from where Lachung is an hours drive where tourists stay overnight.

The experience of visiting Yumthang Valley should not be missed. From the beautiful drive through breathtaking forests, the awe-inspiring views of the mountain ranges and peaks, the added attraction of staying at the wonderful hamlet of Lachung, and finally the incredible Yumthang Valley itself – tour operators in the area ( who are your only option for visiting locations in North Sikkim ) generally offer a 2 night, 3 day package, and with a little care in picking one with a good reputation – you can surely count on having one of the most pleasurable and memorable holidays of your life.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Roopkund Lake, Uttaranchal

When you look at Roopkund Lake from a distance, it lulls you into believing that it’s just another picturesque glacial lake in the Himalayas. However, at the bottom of this clear water lake lays a mystery that dates back hundreds of years and has been the subject of speculation among scientists, historians and mountaineers from all over the world.

It is located at an altitude of about 5,000 meters above the sea level in Chamoli district, Uttaranchal. When this glacial lagoon begins to melt, hundreds of corpses can be seen floating around. This revelation shook people worldwide and different theories were formed as to how such a terrible incident could’ve occurred. Were these people on a pilgrimage tour? Did they die in an epidemic? What were these people doing in one of the most inhabited regions of the Himalayas? It is also for this very reason that the lake is also referred to as the “Skeleton Lake”.

The matter was investigated and it was found that the people were from the 12th century to the 15th century. Remnants of 500 people were found and it is believed that more than 600 people lost their lives.

According to local legends, King Jasdhawal of Kanauj wanted to celebrate the birth of an heir by going on a pilgrimage to the Nanda-Devi Mountains in the Garhwal Himalaya. However, he ignored the rules of pilgrimage by indulging in unruly singing and dancing. The entourage thus had to face the wrath of the local deity, Latu. It said believed that they were caught in a dreadful hailstorm and were thrown into the Roopkund Lake.

As it turns out, it was not all folklore. National Geographic television channel commissioned a team of European and Indian scientists to examine the skeletons. They found jewelry, bones and even flesh and clothes of a few bodies that had been preserved in the icy ground. However, what really caught their attention were the skulls which showed short, deep cracks. No other part of their body had been harmed. The only plausible explanation that scientists in Hyderabad, Pune and London could come up with is hailstorms. With hailstones as large as cricket balls and nowhere to seek protection from them, it is quite possible that many, if not all of them, perished.

The world breathed a collective sigh of relief when this age-old mystery was finally uncovered. However, a number of questions still remain unanswered. Where were all those people originally from? Where were all they headed to? Science still has quite a way to go before all answers can be found.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Rock Garden

This is the premier attraction in Chandigarh since 1958. It was created by Nek Chand Saini. This was formed out of the urban waste materials found in the city. These urban wastes include tin cans, bottles, plates, broken plugs and saucers. These materials were formed into beautiful textures and patterns. There were many materials were formed out of these wastes. The place has series of chamber but the first phase is a small canyon. The place has broken ceramics of human and animal form.

One of the most unique and spectacular attractions in Chandigarh is the Rock Garden.  It is a classic example of innovation and recycling at its best.  Designed to look like a lost kingdom, this sprawling 40 acre garden is situated between the Capitol Complex and Sukhna Lake.

Set amidst waterfalls, plazas and various sculptures, the sight is something that the world has never seen before.

What makes this garden so impressive is the fact that everything in the garden is created from industrial and home waste and items that have been discarded.

Established in the form of an open-air exhibition hall, theatre trove and a miniature maze, the Rock garden is set in large mosaic courtyards connected by walled paths. Moreover, several important performances have taken place in this small but very artistic theatre. Enter into the most breathtaking arrangement of rocks, boulders, frames, broken chinaware, metal wires, broken bangles, play marbles and much more through a modest yet classy entrance. It is truly a treat to the eyes. The layout of the garden is built around the fantasy of a lost kingdom. The Rock garden displays sculptures made from everything from clay to auto parts which have aided in creating a world of palaces, soldiers, monkeys, village life, women and temples. This garden, which is without a single flower, is also the venue of the annual Teej Festival. During this time the entire garden lights up and attains a festive look.

The Rock Garden itself has 14 different chambers housing natural rock-formations which include a musician’s chamber and the main court (Darbar) where the king’s throne is placed.

This beautiful garden also has a very interesting history behind it. It was initially started secretly by Nak Chund in 1957. He was a road inspector in the Engineering Department of the Chandigarh Capital Project at the time and spent seven years (1958-1965) collecting natural material, urban and industrial waste. However, his work as discovered by the authorities in 1975 and in 1976, it was inaugurated as a public space. It even appeared on an Indian stamp in 1983.

The garden attracts more than 12 million visitors from around the world every year and is viewed as one of the modern wonders of the world.

Summer opening hours
(1st April to 30th September)
9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Winter opening hours
(1st October to 31st March)
9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The rock garden is open all seven days of a week.

Entry prices:
Rs. 5 for adults
Rs. 3 for children.

Saturday, October 19, 2013


Pondicherry is a beautiful town and the capital of the Union Territory of Pondicherry in south India. The town is best known for its remarkable levels of French influence that can be seen nowhere else in the Indian subcontinent.

There are four beaches in Pondicherry and they are its main attractions that draw tourists in hordes. The best part is that the beaches are quite close by and sometimes situated near the city which makes them easily accessible. The beaches are clean and tranquil plus they have wide roads called promenades that are built on the sides. The most famous beach in Pondicherry is the Promenade beach that has a kilometer long road running parallel to the beach. Due to its proximity it is equal distance from most part of the city and is easily accessible. The beach is dotted with several landmarks and memorials such as the War Memorial, a Statue of Joan of Arc, a Statue of Mahatma Gandhi and the old light house, etc. The other three famous beaches are the Paradise beach, Auroville beach and Serenity beach. Located around 7-8kms from the city center the Paradise beach is true to its name. It can be reached by boat and there is also a small creek that flows on one side.

Travelers can easily find numerous hotels in Pondicherry near beach that offer comfortable accommodations and easy locations. Pondicherry, a Union Territory and once French Colony in India, is a very popular getaway location in Southern India. Famous for its architecture, beaches, food and spiritual retreats. Its also known as “The French Riviera of the East”. Pondicherry is also a city with a dual personality, half Indian sea side city, and half french town.

Pondicherry is first and foremost a beach town, and while the once famous Promenade is still a major toursit attraction, it has off-late been overshadowed as the city’s pre-eminent beach by the nearby Paradise Beach – which is about 8km south of town on the Cuddalore Highway. Auroville beach too, in the opposite direction – 12km to the north is also a much better beach to visit, with shallow waters and small waves making it a good place to swim. The main attraction otherwise is walking, or cycling around the French Quarter and sampling some of the delectable cuisine on offer. Pondicherry’s French Quarter is officially as close as you can get to a beautiful European town, without leaving the country. The mueseums in the area are also worth a visit especially Pondicherry Museum and the Bharathidasan Museum. Mahatma Gandhi’s magnificent statue on the Promenade is also a major tourist attraction and landmark.

12km away, one finds Auroville, which is worth a visit for both the Matirmandir – their showpiece building signifying Aurobindo’s philosophy and beliefs, as well a for the many restuarants, shops and hotels that dot the area around it – which are mostly run by emigrant French or Italian citizens, and provide a very authentic culinary experience.

The best way to get around Pondicherry is by renting a bike, or even better ( and in the non monsoon season ) – a bicycle. All travel options including rental car, bike, scooty and bicycle are easily available along Mission Street and MG Road. The Pondicherry Tourism Department also has a daily bus covering all the attraction of the area, which serves as a good introduction to the city, or might be just the thing the time-strapped tourist is looking for. But anything longer than a weekend is best spent exploring the city on foot and by bike, and leaving ample time to relax by the beaches, and savours the city’s mixed cultural influences – especially in Architecture and Food. Le Cafe, on Rue de Bussy is a 24 hour cafe that serves very good food, and comes highly recommended.

The best part of Pondicherry though remains the many walks one can take through the beautiful French Quarter (which is the area bounded roughly by NSC Bose St, SV Patel Rd and Goubert Ave). One option is to take Puducherry’s heritage walk.  Focus Books sells heritage walking trail brochures, but for those who want to go on their own – start at the north end of Goubert Ave, the seafront promenade, and wander south, past the French consulate and the Gandhi Statue. Turn right at the town hall on Rue Mahe Labourdonnais, past the shady Bharathi Park, from take a leisurely walk down Dumas, Romain Rolland and Suffren Sts.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Madurai Temple

Madurai is one of the biggest cities of Tamil Nadu and is the second largest municipal corporation in the state. It is one of the ancient cities of India that was inhabited two million years ago. This served as the seat of the Tamil empires namely Nayak dynasty and Pandya dynasty. Madurai served as their capital city and the city is noted for its Meenakshi Amman Temple that depicts the Dravidian style of architecture. As there are many Hindu temples located here, it is one of the important pilgrimage centers in India. So many pilgrims as well as tourists visit Madurai all round the year.

Madurai, also known as the Temple City of South India, is the second largest city in Tamil Nadu.  Situated on the banks of the river Vaigi, this city is tantamount with the Meenakshi Sundareswarar twin Temple.  This gigantic temple complex is dedicated to Shiva, known here as Sundareshwara and his consort Parvati who is known here as Meenakshi.  This temple is the focal point around which the city of Madurai has developed over 2500 years.

Madurai Meenakshi Temple with its four immense gopurams in each direction offers a majestic sight. There is a Pottramaraikkulam here that is open to all. The temple has many halls in various names and shrines of Meenakshi, Sundareswarar and other gods and goddesses. Some other holy places near Madurai are Koodal Azhagar Temple, Thiruparankundram, Alagar Temple, etc.

The sprawling temple complex is one of the oldest and largest of its kind in our country and is almost like a city unto itself. It covers an area of over 65,000 square meters. Even though the temple was originally built by the Pandya King, Kulasekaran, the temple has grown due to the contribution of each dynasty and victorious monarchs. The Temple, as we see it today was built by Tiurmalai Nayakar who ruled Madurai from the 16th to the 18th century.

The Temple itself is set within a high-walled enclosure at the centre of which are the two shrines for Meenakshi and Sundareshwara. There are four massive gateways enclosing there two shrines which are surrounded by a number of smaller shrines and majestic pillared halls. The complex also contains 14 impressive gopurams (gateway towers) which range from 45-50 m in height. The towers have solid granite bases and are covered with stucco figures of deities, mythical animals and monsters painted in bright colors. There is not a single visitor who is not overwhelmed by the vast number of paintings and sculptures. About 33,000 sculptures can be found in the temple complex.

The most stunning feature of this temple is the magnificent Hall of Thousand Pillars or “Ayiramkaal Mandapam”. It is an architectural marvel wherein each pillar features high, elaborate and bold sculptures that look life like. What’s more, these pillars appear to be in a straight line when viewed from any angle. The beautiful musical pillars are located in the outermost corridors and are carved out of stone. When tapped, each pillar produces a different musical note.

The temple is one of utmost importance for the Tamil people, which can be seen by the number of visitors it attracts. Around 15,000 people visit this temple daily with it increasing to 25,000 on Fridays. It was even in the list of Top 30 nominees of the “New Seven Wonders of the World” and gets annual revenue of sixty million INR.

You can find good hotels in Madurai in and around the temple and near railway station. If you are looking for luxury hotels then you can find some good ones in Alagar Koil Road. The cuisine of Madurai has the true tastes of Tamil people. It has its unique food items like paruthi paal, jigarthanda and panangalkandu paal. The varieties like appam, kuzhi paniyaram and malligaippoo idlis will melt into your mouth. Refer the right Madurai travel guide and choose the good Madurai hotels and Madurai restaurants to make your visit memorable in this temple city.

Opening Hours: 05:00-12:30pm and 4:00-9:30pm

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Keoladeo National Park

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For all the nature lovers out there, who wish to spend some time away from the buzz and din of the cities, the clean fresh air and in the company of some of the rarest of the rare birds which are never seen in the cities, there is a place called Keoladeo National Park which is known as “Bird Paradise”. The Keoladeo National Park, formerly known as Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, is one of Asia’s finest bird areas with over 380 resident and migrant species which include Demoiselle, Common and the rare Siberian Cranes.

Situated in the State of Rajasthan, this park derives its name from the temple of Keoladeo (Shiva) and ‘ghana’ which in the local dialect means dense, referring to the nature of vegetation found here. The area of park may not be very large but it supports a tremendous diversity of plant and animal species in a wide array of habitats. These include dry grasslands, woodlands, woodland swamps and wetlands.

Keoladeo Ghana - Formerly known as Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, the Keoladeo National Park is India's famous bird sanctuary. Located in the town of Bharatpur city in Rajasthan, it is home to wide variety of avifaunal species including resident and migratory birds. It is India's finest bird sanctuary and attracts bird watchers from all over the world. In winter seasons, a number of different species of migratory birds can be seen here, including Siberian cranes. Cycle-rickshaw ride in the park is the most preferred way to birding in this famous bird sanctuary.

The flora consists of over 372 species of angiosperms, out of which 96 species are aquatic species. Along with the birds, it is also an excellent place to watch mammals like Golden Jackal, Striped Hyena, Fishing Cat, Jungle Cat, Nilgai, Sambar, Blackbuck and wild Boar.

Keoladeo National Park has an interesting history. In the past, this area used to be the shooting ground for ducks for the Maharaja Suraj Mull of Bharatpur. It continued to be a hunting preserve for the British and the Maharajas till 1964, after which hunting was banned here. It was declared a National Park in 1982 and UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.

Today, the park is acknowledged as one of the most important breeding and feeding grounds for the birds in the world. There are well-defined treks in the park which can easily be covered on foot, by bicycle or you can even hire a rickshaw. One can also enjoy a serene boat ride in the early morning or evening.

The park is open throughout the year.

Entry Fee:
• Foreigners: Rs.200/-
• Indians: Rs.25/-

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Gwalior Fort

Gwalior is known for its forts and monuments that are built by the kings of the bygone era. Situated in the Indian State of Madhya Pradesh, the city is a favorite destination for tourists from all around the world. Foreign tourists who plan a visit to India always include this city in their itinerary. The city bears a strong historical legacy which is quite a fascinating fact about Gwalior. The forts and monuments are so huge that leaves you gaping just by looking at it! Let's have a look into more of the varied facts and the history of this beautiful city.

Described by Mughal Emperor Babur as, “The pearl amongst fortresses in India”, this imposing fort is hard to miss as it can be seen from every nook and corner of Gwalior.  Built on an isolated hill of sandstone 100 m above the city, the Fort spreads out over an area of 3 km and is considered as North and Central India’s most impregnable fortress.

The Gwalior Fort itself was built in two parts, at different times. The first part, the main Fort was built during the Tomar rule, in the 8th century. The Gurjari Mahal and the Man Mandir Palace was later constructed by Raja Man Singh Tomar in the 15th century for his favorite queen, Mrignayani.

In the 500 years since then, the Fort has seen many ups and downs in history. It has also changed hands many times and has been held by the Tomars, Mughals, Marathas and the British, who finally handed it over to the Scindias. The fort has quite a gory history. There’s the Jauhar Kund, which marks the spot where the women of the harem burnt themselves to death after the defeat of the King of Gwalior in 1232. The Mughal emperor Aurangzed imprisoned and later murdered his brother Murad in the striking Man Mandir Palace.

Surrounded by concrete walls of sandstone, the Gwalior Fort encloses three temples, 6 palaces and several water tanks. Easily the most beautiful place in the Fort is the Man Mandir Palace. It is an amazingly elaborate structure that seems to hang on at the edge of the fort. Blue ceramic tiles form the fa├žade of this palace. It is also host of the spectacular sound and light show which is held there every evening. It is so well executed that you will feel as if you’re a part of the rich history of the fort and the love story of Raja Man Singh and his Queen Mrignayani.

The Fort also contains many other marvels of medieval architecture. The Gujar Mahal is one such structure whose outer covering has survived the many battles the Fort has encountered. The inside of the Mahal has been transformed into an archaeological museum which houses an impressive collection of exhibits, some of which date back as far as 1st century AD.

Out of the three temples, the Teli-Ka-Mandir is the most prominent. It is a 9th century Dravidian style shrine rising to a height of over 100 ft. It is famous for its blend of South Indian architecture with North Indian decorative motifs and is notable for its liberally sculpted exterior. The Saas-Bahu temples can be found on the eastern side of the fort. They are dedicated to Lord Vishnu and are larger-than-life examples of 11th century temple architecture.

The Karan Palace, the Jahangir Mahal and the Shah Jahan Mahal are also all palaces what are definitely worth seeing. The fort also has a special place in the field of human civilization as it was the place which has the first ever recorded use of 0. A visit to Gwalior is incomplete with a visit to Gwalior Fort, one of the best heritages of our country and the most prominent structure in the Gwalior skyline. The best time to visit Gwalior fort is between October to March.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Charmed Valley of Flowers

North India is one of the most visited tourist destinations of India. Offering the real taste of India, this region attracts tourists from across the globe. Some of the best tourist attractions of the country are found here which makes it a popular destination. Whether you are an adventure lover or a honeymooner, Northern India is the best bet for you. The geographical diversity of this region beautifully reflects in its mountains, rivers, lakes, streams, valleys, waterfalls, forest and desert. You will get to experience so much at one place.

“High in the Himalayan ranges of Garhwal hills of Uttaranchal lies an enchanted Valley.” About 600 kilometers from Delhi, in the Chamoli district of Uttaranchal can be found The Valley of Flowers, a breathtaking array of over 500 different species of wild flowers spread over an area of 87.5 km².  It is situated a height of 11,000 feet to 14,000 feet above the sea level in the Western Himalayas.

This mysterious valley was hidden from the outside world, with only locals frequenting the place. Initially, it was avoided by the shepherds who believed this magical valley to be the celestial playground of the Gods, nymphs and fairies.

The Valley was discovered by Frank Smith, a mountaineer, botanist and an explorer who came across it quite accidentally in 1931. He was so captivated by its outstanding beauty, which was in its full bloom at the time that he wrote a book about it called “Valley of Flowers”. Thus, the Valley remained a secret no more much to the delight of nature enthusiasts all over the world.

The Valley itself is flanked on either side by imposing peaks, capped with snow. It is divided into two sections due to the Pushpawati River which cuts through the valley. The major portion of this valley is on its right bank and is every trekker’s dream come true. The entire trek from Govindghat to the valley via Ghangharia is a feast to the eyes. The Valley of flowers changes color almost every day, as it blooms with hundreds of new different flowers along with the changing shades of the old flowers as time passes by. It has been acknowledged by botanists, mountaineers and nature lovers as one of the most picturesque high altitude valleys in the world.

It was only in 1982 that an area of 8,950 hectares of the valley was declared a National Park. In July 2005, it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. This is mainly due to the fact that the valley contains so much rich diversified fauna within its area especially as it is a meeting point of Zanskar, Himalayan ranges and Eastern and Western Himalayas. The importance of this beautiful valley is furthered as many endangered flower species and medicinal plants can be found here.

From November to May, the valley is covered in a bed of snow but the flora here is well adapted to the harsh climatic conditions. The best time to visit the Valley of Flowers is in the months of July and August after the snow has melted. The flowers are in full bloom during this time, giving you ample opportunity to enjoy the never ending charm of this place.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Biligiriranga Hills (BR Hills) - A place that fascinates a lover of beauty

There is no other place that fascinates a lover of beauty more than the splendid South India. From the beautiful backwaters of Kerala to the wonderful caves of the Deccan, South India offers something new and fresh on each visit.

The Biligiriranga Hills, commonly called B R Hills, is a hill range situated in south-eastern Karnataka, at its border with the district of Erode in South India. The area is called Biligiriranga Swamy Temple Wildlife Sanctuary or simply BRT Wildlife Sanctuary. It is a protected reserve under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. Being at the confluence of the Western Ghats and the Eastern Ghats, the sanctuary is home to eco-systems that are unique to both the mountain ranges. This beautiful sanctuary was declared a Tiger Reserve in December 2010. BR Hills - A fairly undiscovered destination to sight glorious herds of Asian Elephants and a majestic array of birds.

Besides the fantastic scenery on offer, as well as ample trekking opportunities, BR Hills is best known for the high likelihood of animal sightings and the diversity and richness of the flora and fauna in the area. This is due to the fact that the BR hills links the Eastern Ghats and the Western Ghats allowing animals to move between them and facilitating gene flow between populations of species in these areas. Thus, this sanctuary serves as an important biological bridge for the biota of the entire Deccan plateau.

The most conspicuous mammals in the BR Hills are the herds of wild elephants. The BR hills is the only forest east of the main Western ghats mountain ranges in the central southern peninsula to harbour these panchyderms in large numbers.

A recent tiger census conducted by forest officials has confirmed the presence of 17 tigers in the sanctuary.

The forests are also well known for many Indian bison. There are about 26 species of mammals in total recorded in the sanctuary. The other mammals include sambhar, chital, the shy barking deer which are quite common here and the rare four-horned antelope. Carnivores include tigers, leopards, wild dogs, lesser cats and sloth bears and among arboreal mammals two species of primates and three species of squirrels including the giant flying squirrel are recorded. 254 species of birds recorded in the BR hills. These include the enigmatic southern population of the White-winged Tit (Parus nuchalis), a specimen of which was collected by R. C. Morris and now housed in the Natural History museum at Tring.

The hills are famous for the temple of Lord Ranganatha or Lord Venkatesha which is situated on the highest peak of the hill range, on the ‘white cliff’ which gives the hill its name. The sanctuary is about 250 kilometres away from Bangalore by road, which is the easiest way to get to the sancutary. The nearest train station is Chamrajnagar about 40km away. BR Hills also houses “Dodda Sampige” – a sacred grove revered by the local tribes and home to many beautiful trees. The climb to the grove is a favourite among avid trekkers. Accomodation is available inside the sanctuary itself, for all budgets.

Arguably, the most unique and important feature of BR Hills is that it provides daily living proof that biodiversity conservation can go hand-in-hand with people and their livelihoods. The tribal Soliga people have lived in harmony with these forests for hundreds of years and provide BR Hills with a peerless model for conservation of our heritage.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Bhangarh - A Haunted Place

Located between Jaipur and Alwar in Rajasthan, Bhangarh is India’s very own ghost town.  Known as one of the most haunted places in the country, it is famous for its historical ruins. It is definitely worth a visit for its temples, havelis and a palace. However, be sure to finish all your sightseeing during the day as the spooky place is strictly out of bounds at night.

A signboard displayed by ASI, a Government of India organization clearly states “Entering the borders of Bhangarh before sunrise and after sunset is strictly prohibited. Legal action would be taken against anybody who does not follow these instructions”. All this talk about the supernatural has resulted in making it one of the popular tourist destinations today.

It is believed that the city of Bhangarh was cursed by the Guru Balu Nath, which led to the town’s evacuation. He sanctioned the establishment of the town but with one clause, saying, “The moment the shadows of your palaces touch me, the city shall be no more!” Ignorant of such a threat, a descendant raised the palace to such a height that it cast a shadow Balu Nath’s forbidden retreat and thus the town was cursed as predicted. The small Samadhi where Balu Nath is said to lie buried is still there.

Bhangarh is a deserted town with some 10000 dwellings established in 1613 by Madho Singh, son of great Mughal general, Man Singh of Amber. Bhangarh was abandoned soon after being built and supposedly after it was cursed by a magician. Bhangarh fort offers an intact view of the medieval past. Apparently, the Bhangarh town had been desolated by an old mughal invasion, and is just reverting back to being habited again.

Bhangarh premises are enclosed by a partially ruined wall. Other than dwellings, ruins of Bhangarh also include gardens, havelis, banyan trees and temples of Lord Someshwar, gopinath, mangla devi and Keshava rai. But the enigmatic attraction is a secluded chhatri on the hilltop which catches attention of all the travelers. In entirety, the random placement of all these sites within Bhangarh premises may look freighting and mysterious at the same time.

According to another legend, the beauty and charisma of the Princess of Bhangarh Ratnavati, was incomparable to anyone in all of Rajasthan. As soon as she turned eighteen, she started getting matrimonial offers from other regions. In the same region lived a tantrik, a magician well versed in the occult, named Singhia. He was madly in love with the princess knowing that nothing could ever come of it. One day when he saw the princess’s maid in the market buying scented oil for her, he thought that this was his chance. He used his black magic on the oil which would hypnotize the princess by her merely touching the oil and would surrender herself and run to him. His plan did not work out as the princess had seen the tantric enchanting the oil and thus poured it on the ground. It touched a stone, which started rolling towards the tantrik and crushed him. Dying, Singhia cursed the palace with the death of all who dwelt in it, without any rebirth in their destinies. The next year there was a battle between Bhangarh and Ajabgarh in which Princess Ratnavati lost her life.

The grounds of Bhangarh are enclosed by a partially ruined wall. The beautifully carved temples Gopinath, Shiva, Mangla Devi and Keshava Rai are definitely worth a visit. There’s also the dancer’s haveli. The most mysterious building of all is the chhatri that stands atop the hill, which is believed to have been inhabited by the tantrik.

The town continues to draw visitors many of whom claim to have heard “sounds” of music and tinkling of anklets. Some even swear they have heard spine-chilling screams. Whether its fact or myth, you decide.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Mackinac Island US - A City Without Cars

In Mackinac Island, US, cars have been banned since 1898. Located just offshore of mainland Michigan, in Lake Huron, Mackinac Island and its namesake city have long been a favourite spot for a relaxing getaway.

When automobiles first began to arrive, moving along the island's once-quiet roadways, startling horses and spitting out smoke, it became clear to locals that this new invention was not for them. In 1898, the Mackinac village coucil moved to outlaw the automobile before the monsters had a chane to take over.

Although the small island is home to only around 500 people, in the summur, that number swells to 15,000 as tourist flock to the island. However, aside from a couple of emergency vehicles, there's never a car to be seen. Transportation on Mackinac is limited to walking, horse-drawn carriages, and bycycling,

Getting around on the island is very easy and people here save a lot of money which would otherwise be spent on cars. Mackinac is home to the nation's only careless highway, the M-185, offering easy access to its coastline, uncluttered by parking lots or gas stations.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Kashmir In Autumn

Golden-brown rice fields, streams bringing down crystal-clear water from the mountains, cicada insects “singing”: these are the indicators of the breathtaking beauty and grandeur of the autumn in Kashmir.

As farmers in the countryside prepare to harvest paddy, trees laden with apples show signs that the fruit is waiting to be picked.

In the hilly areas, the maize crop and walnut trees are also maturing for the harvest.

“Kashmiris living in the villages and along wetlands, where willow plantations abound, are familiar with the sound produced by cicadas. Autumn and singing of the cicada insects have always been synonymous in the Valley,” says a local zoologist.

Besides apples, grapes, for which north Kashmir’s Lar area in Ganderbal district is famous, are also picked in the beginning of the autumn season.

For anglers, Kashmir’s mountain streams with trout are like a treasure trove during the autumn months.

Interestingly, trout was introduced in Kashmir by the British rulers early in the 19th century to address the nostalgia they felt for the fish.

In fact, one of the major attractions for foreign anglers has been the high quality brown trout found in Kashmir.

For anglers, trekkers, water sports lovers and also for those who come to just lounge and relax, autumn is the best season to visit the Valley.

A nip in the mornings and evenings and the gentle warmth of the autumn sun are so refreshing.

Towards the end of autumn in November, the chinar trees change their colour from green through crimson to yellow. It is a spellbinding spectacle that holds the viewer in awe.

While some believe that the chinars were brought to Kashmir from Iran, others say they came from Greece. One Persian visitor during yore is known to have exclaimed, “Che Nar” (What Fire!) after seeing the fiery leaves of the tree in autumn.

And, as the autumn advances, thousands of migratory birds from far off Siberia, China, the Philippines and eastern Europe start arriving to spend the winter months in the local water bodies that host the avian visitors.

Whichever way one looks at it, autumn is undoubtedly the king of the Valley’s seasons. If you haven’t been to Kashmir in autumn, you just don’t know what you are missing.