Monday, December 29, 2008

Dive Agar

On the vast coastline of Maharashtra there lies this little gem – Dive Agar. A tiny hamlet that is on the verge of a tourist boom due to the saturation of neighbouring ‘awesome’ tourist spots like Alibag and Janjira Murud. From Mumbai it will take you about five hours of leisurely driving with stopovers. The distance is just 195kms and the roads are also lovely. You have to travel on the NH17 – the Mumbai Goa highway upto Mangaon and then take a diversion to Shrivardhan and Harihareshwar. On this road you will come across a village called Mhasla from where this spot of heaven is just 16kms. There are two decent restaurants with clean washrooms between Mumbai and Mangaon. In Karnala that is 10kms from Panvel, is the ‘Vittal Kamaths’ multi cuisine restaurant and in Kolad 2okms before Mangaon is ‘Mai Bhavani’ an ethnic Maharashtrian restaurant which has a ‘Tulzapur Bhavani’ temple too! Dive Agar has become famous for its ‘Suvarna Ganesha’. On 17thNov97, Draupadi Dharma Patil, while digging in her betel nut farm, found a copper box which contained a Gold mask of Ganesha. On discovery of this treasure, she went and told her neighbours and the police about the same. Then as per law a ‘panchanama’ was carried out and the Gold Ganesha mask was taken over by the local governing council. It was then decided to place it in the existing Ganesha temple in the village for worship and display. Unfortunately, the ‘finder’ is not the ‘keeper’ in this case and all that she has received until now are just vacuous promises from the governing and the temple authorities. Who said honesty pays?! However, she has set up a small temple at the place where she had found it and people who visit there do donate towards her effort. Then there is another temple being built called the ‘Rupnarayan mandir’. It is still under construction behind which there is an old temple called the ‘Sundernarayan Mandir’ of 1962 vintage from where the idol is removed and placed in the new ‘Rupnarayan Mandir’. Now that one has taken care of ones spiritual needs, one can indulge. The beach is virginal, clean and beautiful. The sunset is awesome. There are tiny cottages all along the street and most if not all will offer you a hearty meal at very reasonable prices. However one has to inform them in advance or be prepared to wait for a while as the food is cooked on order. Did not see any liquor shop around and when we asked for beer, were told that it has to be procured from ‘Borli’ another village about 10kms away, so go stocked with your wines if you so wish. The sea food, especially ‘Surmai’ is delicious and you will get an option of either a Chicken Thali or a Fish Thali in the restaurants apart from the vegetarian Thali. For dessert, you can indulge in the ‘Ukdiche Modak’ – the steamed dumpling stuffed with grated coconut and jaggery. The use of oil is minimal but the coconut is used generously in all preparations. As far as accommodation is concerned, one can stay in any of the homestay cottages or in regular hotels of which there are just about three in all of Dive Agar. One is the MTDC leased ‘Exotica’ and then there is the popular mid range ‘Prathamesh’ where we stayed or ’Pinakin’ also a mid range hotel. Exotica is the only one that is bang on the beach while the other two are about a 10min walk away. Like all the villages in Maharashtra there is the ‘Shivaji Chowk’ which is the focal point of the village.
If you are the type who wants to relax and enjoy a bit of solitude while taking long walks on the beach, this is the place to go. But please go soon before it is trashed by noisy tourists.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ellora Caves

The parking lot at Ellora is right in front of the largest single monolithic excavation in the world, the great Kailasa (Cave 16). The Great Kailasa is attributed to Krishna I (c. 757-83 A.D.), the successor and uncle of Dantidurga. A copper plate grant from Baroda of the period of Karka II (c. 812-13 A.D.) speaks about the greatness of this edifice. Ellora represents one of the largest rock-hewn monastic-temple complexes in the entire world, that too of three different religions - Buddhism, Brahmanism and Jainism. These caves are hewn out of the volcanic basaltic formation of Maharashtra, known as ‘Deccan Trap’, the term trap being of Scandinavian origin representing the step like formation of the volcanic deposits. The rock formation, on weathering has given rise to the appearance of terraces with flat summits. One can also have a glimpse of the channels (near Cave 32) through which the volcanic lava once flowed. These channels, due to overheating, have a characteristic brownish red colour. The basaltic rock is ideal for rock hewing, as it is soft during the initial excavation and hardens on exposure to environment. This induced the religious followers of various creeds to establish their settlements in them. The Ellora caves are datable from circa 6th - 7th century A.D. to 11th - 12th century A.D. There are nearly 100 caves of which 34 caves are popular and visited by many tourists. Caves 1 to 12 are Buddhist; Caves 13 to 29 are Brahmanical and Caves 30 to 34 are Jaina. Thus, we have the greatest religious conglomeration at a single place, signifying the religious tolerance and solidarity of different faiths. The caves are excavated in the scarp of a large plateau, running in a north-south direction for nearly 2 km, the scarp being in the form of a semi-circle, the Buddhist group at the right arc on the south, while the Jaina group at the left arc on the north and the Brahmanical group at the centre. A tourist can plan the visit of these caves according to the time available and depending upon the interest in ancient art. If a visitor has at his disposal three to four hours, then Cave nos. 10 (Visvakarma Cave), 16 (Kailasa), 21 (Ramesvara) and 32 & 34 (Jaina group of caves) should not be missed and one can have a glimpse of the representative art of Buddhism, Brahmanism and Jainism. If a visitor has an entire day at his disposal, then Cave nos. 2, 5, 10 & 12 of the Buddhist group; Cave nos. 14, 15, 16, 21 & 29 of the Brahmanical group and Caves 32 to 34 of the Jaina group should be visited. All this valuable information about the caves has been gleaned from the Archaeological Survey of India’s website We had barely a couple of hours, hence just reveled in the beauty of Cave 16 and visited Caves 10 & 12. The sunset from Ellora is also worth a view and we spent some time gazing at the beautiful sight. On return to the parking lot, we were surprised to see a bunch of langurs being fed peanuts by tourists. We were told by the peanut vendors that these monkeys are harmless and will wait patiently for the visitors to feed them. You buy a packet of peanuts worth Rs.5/- and empty them out on your palm and hold it out to the langur. The langur will then amble towards you, hold your hand and pick out the peanut with the other hand and eat! So friendly! Our only regret was we could not see more of Ellora and missed out on the other two major attractions of Aurangabad – the Daulatabad Fort and Paanchakki. Hopefully will do that some other time. Some important information about Ellora Caves Open from sunrise to sunset Closed on Tuesday Entrance Fee: Citizens of India and visitors of SAARC (Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Maldives and Afghanistan) and BIMSTEC Countries (Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Myanmar) - Rs. 10 per head. Others: US $ 5 or Indian Rs. 250/- per head (children up to 15 years free)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Ajanta caves

Though we had planned to leave from the MTDC resort in Aurangabad by 0700hrs for Ajanta caves, we could leave only around 0830hrs, thanks to their laid-back restaurant service. It took us two and a half hours to cover the 105kms to Ajanta. The roads and signage all the way were pretty good. Four kms from the caves there is a huge parking lot where all vehicles have to be parked. From hereon you have to use the environment friendly buses run by the authorities. The charges for the shuttle service are Rs7/- one way by non-aircon and Rs.15/- one way by the aircon buses.
The distance between the parking lot and the Bus Bay is filled with stalls selling souvenirs, snacks and bottled water. At the base of the caves too, there is an MTDC restaurant, just after you purchase the entrance tickets. Since the usage of flash for photography in the caves is prohibited, they have installed fibre optic lights, which will be switched on for you on production of a Rs.5/- ticket that has to be purchased at the time of purchasing entrance tickets. The caves attained the name from a nearby village named Ajanta. Apparently, these caves were discovered by an Army Officer in the Madras Regiment of the British Army in 1819 during one of his hunting expeditions. The official guide’s charges are Rs.600/- (non negotiable) or you can avail the services of the freelancers at the door of every cave who will do the job per cave (Rs.20/- to Rs.50/-) or all caves for Rs.300/-. All rates negotiable.
The caves, famous for its murals, are the finest surviving examples of Indian art, particularly painting. They were excavated (circa. 2nd century B.C. to 6th century A.D.) in the shape of a horseshoe, overlooking a narrow stream known as Waghora and each cave was connected to the stream by a flight of steps, which are now almost obliterated.
Totally, 30 excavations were hewn out of rock including an unfinished one. The earliest excavations belong to the Hinayana phase of Buddhism. These caves are datable to the pre-Christian era, the earliest among them being Cave 10 dating from the second century B.C.
The object of worship is a stupa and these caves exhibit the imitation of wooden construction to the extent that the rafters and beams are also sculpted even though they are non-functional.
The world famous paintings at Ajanta fall into two broad phases. The earliest, in cave nos. 9 & 10, are datable to second century B.C. The second phase of paintings started around 5th – 6th centuries A.D. and continued for the next two centuries. These exemplary paintings of the Vakataka period can be seen in cave nos. 1, 2, 16 and 17. The main theme of the paintings is the depiction of various Jataka stories, different incidents associated with the life of Buddha, and the contemporary events and social life.
The ceiling decoration invariably consists of decorative patterns, geometrical as well as floral. The paintings were executed after the elaborate preparation of the rock surface by chiseling grooves so that the layer applied over it could be held in an effective manner. The chief binding material used here was glue. These paintings are not frescoes as they have been painted with the aid of a binding agent, whereas in frescoes, the paintings are executed while the lime wash is still wet and acts as an intrinsic binding agent. It took us about three hours to explore Ajanta so on return near the parking lot, we fortified ourselves with some hot ‘Puri Bhaaji’ and ‘Aloo Parathas’ at one of the ‘fast food stalls’.