On our Udaipur to Jodhpur stretch of the Rajasthan road trip, Ranakpur (94 KMS from Udaipur) was a halt that had to be made. P had been here earlier; there was no way N could not see the marvel that the Jain Temple was.
A photo-log from our visit to the Ranakpur Jain Temple.
Ranakpur is a village with greenery & water bodies in an otherwise largely arid Rajasthan. It is often ignored by sightseers, sandwiched as it is between Jodhpur and Udaipur. But Ranakpur holds dear its heritage & history.
The small village is known for its Jain temples dedicated to different Tirthankaras. The temples were built under the patronage of Rana Kumbha (of the Kumbhalgarh fame). Their history – Dharna Shah, a local Jain businessman, dreamed of paying homage to Lord Adinatha by building a temple in His honor. This is a common backstory of many Indian monuments. That a king or a noble dreamed of a god/ guru who either asked for a temple to be built or who pointed to the place where an idol could be found etc.
The temple complex is a large one with multiple temples inside. Each beautiful… But the main one is the Adinatha Temple. The first word that pops into our heads on seeing the temple is – Majestic!
The Adinatha Temple is huge. ~1450 marble pillars are needed to support its structure. At the entrance, an akichaka is carved into the ceiling. It is a man with five bodies representing fire, water, heaven, earth, and air. The akichaka guards the temple.
The temple is, undoubtedly, beautiful from the outside. But it is the inside beauty that amazes us. Marvelous is an understatement for the architecture. The clean, cool & quiet Ranakpur Jain Temple is a break from the overwhelming chaos that life otherwise is.
When you visit Ranakpur,
Spend a night at Ranakpur if you really want to do justice to the large temple complex.
Alternatively, stay at Kumbhalgarh. Cover Ranakpur from there as well as visit the Kumbhalgarh Fort & Wildlife Sanctuary. (We would really like to see its wolves!)
Ranakpur is a popular day trip from Udaipur.
There is a huge parking lot in the temple complex.
Leather products are forbidden inside the temple.
Legs must be covered when visiting the temple. Long pants are available on rent at the ticket counter in case you are wearing shorts, skirts etc. (This rule is relaxed for children.)
Like we always recommend taking a guide when visiting Indian monuments, same goes for the Ranakpur Jain Temple. The guide will be able to point out unique bits. You can take an audio guide too.
If you need to do photography inside, you must purchase a ticket separately for that.
An on-premises canteen offers affordable Jain food.
There is a market too in Ranakpur, where one can buy curios and souvenirs.
October to March is the right time to visit. The rest of the year, the Sun will roast you alive!
If you intend to have lunch at Ranakpur, head to Fateh Bagh. The heritage hotel has beautiful gardens & interiors and is usually sparsely occupied. And the vintage car!!
On our Jaipur to Udaipur stretch of the Rajasthan road trip, Nathdwara (351 KMS from Jaipur) turned out to be an impromptu halt. On a whim, we turned inside from the highway to bow our heads to Shrinathji (a form of Lord Krishna). We write the key points from our visit here.
1 But First – What’s Unique About The Temple?
Shrinathji Temple is known as Haveli (mansion) of Shrinathji. The haveli itself is fortified & was the Mewar royalty’s palace at one point of time. Interestingly, the haveli has amenities/ rooms for different purposes – chariot, betel storeroom, flower storeroom, jewelry chamber, horse stable, gold & silver grinding wheel etc.
Shrinathji is not seen as a God but as the Lord of the Mansion. So, the form of worship is unusual – service to the living image. The Lord is attended with daily functions like bathing, meals etc. Moreover, as He is a form of Lord Krishna as a child, special care is taken. (Shrinathji has a nap time, play time etc.)
Now, as Shrinathji is a living image, He can be met (seen) only a finite number of times a day. Thus, devotees & visitors can do the darshan only eight times a day when His aarti & shringar (dressing up & beautifying) take place. The darshan timings, according to the official website, are:
5:15 am to 6:00 am
7:15 am to 7:45 am
9:15 am to 9:30 am
11:15 am to 12:05 pm
3:30 pm to 3:45 pm
4:45 pm to 5:00 pm
5:15 pm to 6:00 pm
6:50 pm to 7:30 pm
1.1 We Recommend –
Plan to spend a night at Nathdwara. The different darshans have different meanings. Try to see more than one.
If you cannot spend a night, time your visit appropriately. It would be heartbreaking to reach all the way here only to find out that you cannot see the Lord.
As mentioned above, there are multiple parts in the haveli. Try to see them all.
2 Finding The Temple
Once we turned in from the highway, we kept going around in circles trying to find the temple. GPS was of no help. We must have maneuvered through multiple narrow alleys before a kind traffic policeman advised us to ditch the car & run as it was almost time for the Shayan, our last chance to see Shrinathji.
Unfortunately, there was no parking in sight. We did not want to leave our vehicle on the road either. Finally, another kind soul told us the way to a gaushala (cow shelter). There was space to park & a shortcut through the gaushala to the temple, though uphill.
2.1 We Recommend –
If you are staying at Nathdwara, take local transport to the temple.
If you are just visiting, there is a parking lot on the highway itself. Park your vehicle there & use public transport to get to the temple.
If, like us, you are lost in the lanes, ask locals. Do not rely on GPS.
We literally ran up the incline to be just in time for the last darshan of the day. Like mentioned above, the idol of Shrinathji is open for public viewing only eight times a day. As we did not have a plan to stay in Nathdwara, we had to make it to the last viewing.
Luckily, we reached in time, even after depositing our cameras, phones, shoes & wallets at the storeroom. People were still scattered around.
The curtains were drawn within a few minutes. It seems the entire place came alive as soon as that happened. The crowd thronged towards the viewing queue, separate for men & women. We did not have to make any effort to move forward; the crowd carried us along! 😀
The darshan time is small as all the devotees need to be accommodated in the 45-minute window. So, do not expect to get a leisurely time to pray. And, do not even think of getting distracted, as it could be a blink-and-you-miss-it situation. 😊
The atmosphere was emotionally charged with devotees getting overwhelmed. We believe people from far & wide come to catch a glimpse of the Lord.
3.1 We Recommend –
Keep time available for the security checks & for depositing your belongings.
Photography is prohibited inside the temple. Leave your camera behind.
Keep your balance in the crowd. You would not want to fall down & be trampled upon, would you?
Keep your eyes focused to see the Shrinathji idol. It is a small time-frame. Do not get distracted.
It is, after all, a crowded place. Keep your wits about you. Do not hesitate to ask for help if you feel the need.
4 Getting Out
Outside the temple, there are scores of small shops selling idols & photographs of Shrinathji as well as material for worship. We bought a few memorabilia & had cups of tea.
We then used the earlier route & climbed down the incline towards our vehicle. It was now that we realized we were essentially walking between houses. At one spot, we saw the sun going down. At another, we came across a group of men huddled around a fire, right under a sign that read – “Do not idle around”! 😀
(As we clicked the signboard, the men began to laugh. We turned out, grinned & clicked them as well. Nothing breaks barriers as humor does. Do not leave your sense of humor behind when you go sightseeing!)
We made our way back to the highway & started towards Udaipur. Just then, we spotted a large Shiva statue, under construction, by the highway. A little googling told us it is called Statue of Belief. It was expected to complete in August 2019. We, unfortunately, do not have an update if it is open to public now. But, once it is, it will be worth visiting as it will be the second tallest statue in India.
We are travel addicts; and clearly road trip aficionados. But, when another long weekend struck, there was an urge to do something different. So browsing through yet another travel magazine, we chanced upon the must-do rides on heritage trains in India.
Mostly found in the hilly regions, these narrow gauge trains have been running since the colonial times. The British did have a way with finding idyllic spots & connecting them to the heartland. Can’t blame them there!
The closest to Delhi, of course, is Shimla or as the British spelt it, Simla, their summer capital. Thus started the search for a suitable train on the Kalka – Shimla route. There are a number of trains but the best in terms of looks is the Shivalik Deluxe Express while the best in terms of performance is the Himalayan Queen. A train with a twist is the Rail Motor Car which looks & sounds more like a jeep than a train.
We booked ourselves for the onward journey on the Shivalik Deluxe Express and the return on the Himalayan Queen. With that, the Kalka – Shimla route was covered. But, now came the challenge of the Delhi – Kalka stretch. This was an insipid route; all we had to do was to commute.
The main train on this route, the Howrah Kalka Mail, is seldom punctual. We did not want to take our car to Kalka as we would have trouble finding a parking spot for it for three days.
We grudgingly booked the Howrah Kalka Mail for the onward journey and the Kalka Shatabdi for the return. And we waited, impatiently, for the weekend to arrive. A couple of days before our journey, we began checking if the Howrah Kalka was running on time. To our horror, we realized that it had been running with an average delay of 10-12 hours!
We panicked & started thinking about Plan B. Then it struck us, ever the typical middle-income-group couple, that we could take the bus. Himachal Tourism runs a cool fleet of buses from Delhi to the main cities in Himachal Pradesh.
For Shimla, there is almost a bus an hour. We scrambled to the Himachal Tourism website and heft a sigh of relief when we managed to find a bus at a suitable time on our designated date and booked it quickly.
The website turns out to be quite efficient even though it looks as government – ish as it can. We can select our seats and pay by credit card. Wow! This, of course, was followed by the process of cancelling both our onward tickets.
Finally, the wait was over. We headed to Himachal Bhavan near Mandi House to board our bus. Our seat was at the far end with a rowdy bunch of young boys right behind us. A peaceful sleep seemed unlikely. Sigh!
Before we boarded, we wanted to have our favorite food-samosa. Right across the road is a snack shop which serves all kinds of greasy & spicy Indian snacks. We were drawn to it like bees to flowers.
Did you know that samosa is not Indian? It’s a take on a middle-eastern snack called ‘sambusak’. Well! Once we were satiated, we grabbed our seats. A quick checking of tickets took place, & we started moving. Yay!
Getting out of Delhi was, of course, the biggest challenge, especially it being a weekday. It was compounded with the ‘kaawariyas’ & their entourages. Truly, one can do anything in the name of religion. The ‘kaawar yatra’ now is more about occupying the streets, playing LOUD music and creating nuisance, than it is about worshiping Lord Shiva.
We stopped at the Haryana Tourism guest house in Rai for dinner. Just outside the gate, a bike with two riders unfortunately got a little scare by our bus. While we had dinner, our bus driver & conductor tried to provide comfort to them. Nothing had happened to either them or to the bike. But they had a minor heart attack when our big bus and their tiny bike were millimeters apart. Chuckle!
Dinner was a simple fare. We did not want to delay the bus. We observed other families who are carrying their own food. They spread out the food on sheets in the garden. This took us back to school days. The annual picnic, invariably to the botanical garden, was an occasion we looked forward to, though there was barely anything new that we could see year after year.
Coming back, we were on our way and soon nodding off as the bus met the highway. The bus itself was in a great condition and there was not an iota of rash driving on the part of the driver.
The seats were comfortable, we were given bottles of water and shown a movie too! Do you support reclining seats? Aren’t they unnecessary and an inconvenience to fellow travelers? The manufacturers think only of the passenger who is going to use the reclining feature. They do not envisage the trouble that the person behind faces.
And we were finally in Shimla! It was early morning, was drizzling and ah, such a beautiful weather! When you are not getting stuck in traffic due to rains or when muddy water is not staining your clothes, then monsoons are just beautiful.
We were soon at the Shimla British Resort, another one of the offbeat places we had come across and booked. History has it that the Resort was the residence of a British engineer.
It got handed down to various people before resting with the current owner, who used to give it out for movie and advertisement shootings. Finally, about five years back, he opened it as a Resort for the public.
The Resort is a set of cottages in themes like British, Danish, & Scottish. Each of the rooms is tastefully done with the decor reminding of the colonial times. Lots of woodwork, lots of English paintings, lots of artifacts dating back to the Raj.
We needed some sleep on a proper bed. So we hid ourselves in our Danish Imperial Room and slipped into dreamland. It was noon by the time we were refreshed. It was time to hit Shimla. We felt like tourists.
A quick peek into Trip Advisor showed the Viceregal House (or now known as the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies) as the #1 attraction. Our Resort arranged a cab for us. The cabbie turned out to be a friendly, simple chap. He told us more about Shimla.
The Viceregal House turned out to be more charming than we imagined. It is a Scottish building and was used by the erstwhile British government as their Viceroy’s retreat. A number of historic meetings have taken place here, particularly related to the Indian independence and the partition.
There is a short guided tour for the ground floor. It was completely worth it. After independence, the House became the President’s summer retreat. Later, the President donated it to set up the institute. The Indian flag flies high.
We could not have been happier & more excited- a lovely weather with temperature around 18° C, a colonial building, greenery all around, & lots of history!
Next stop- the Mall Road. Obviously. Duh! Actually, not that obvious; we were hungry and wanted to settle down somewhere to grab a bite. We took a walk on the Mall Road till the Scandal Point. It was foggy; we deserved a cup of something warm.
We narrowed down on Wake & Bake Café. Right opposite the police headquarters, is the small, unassuming café. We were famished; Cappuccino, Cold coffee, Chicken, peppers, chilies & rosemary pizza, Hummus & pita, and Carrot cake hardly seemed adequate. Burp!
The rain did not look like it was done with its daily target, but surprisingly, we quite enjoyed it. Perhaps returning to the warmth of the Resort was what the Gods intend for us. & we had no idea about the surprise waiting for us there.
We had booked a honeymoon package with the Resort. One of the inclusions was a romantic room decoration. Our room looked more wild than romantic. There was an interesting mix of balloons, flowers and leaves.
We could neither stop giggling nor stop shaking our heads. We loved the cheesiness of it. For the decoration, we would give them 5/ 10 but for the effort, full marks! There were also fresh fruits & cookies. We did a little dance around the room.
Marriage indeed brings excitement & happiness to life, in the form of honeymoon packages! The poor Resort staff were disappointed when we asked them to clear the decoration within 15 minutes. But well, there was no place to sit. What could we have done? But guys, loved the enthusiasm. Thank you!
Day 2 started with Annandale. It was Kargil Vijay Diwas – the day India won the Kargil War. It was an absolutely fantastic day to visit the Army Museum. We had asked our friendly cabbie to take us around. He willingly obliged.
We hold the defense forces in high esteem, especially the Indian Army. India is handicapped without them. Those days, there was a flash flood in J&K. The army carried out the rescue operations. J&K citizens, who have called the army all sorts of names & forced them to be withdrawn, now sought its help. It was an eye-opener how the army serves the nation without expecting anything.
The area around the Army Museum is a sight to behold. A greenhouse, a golf course, gardens, and vantage seating points- trust the army to do a great job at whatever they do.
So where was Sharma ji taking us next? (Psst, Sharma ji was our friendly cabbie.) We planned to head to Mashobra & Naldehra. The destinations were unimportant; it was the journey that held value.
Winding roads, picturesque play of the mountains and valleys- it seemed we were in a picture postcard. We have come to Shimla earlier, but have never felt so contented with this region.
The Mashobra apple orchard was completely covered in clouds. The walk up to the Naldehra golf course did not seem too appealing, especially with the drizzle. But we were more than satisfied with the journey to the two places.
We headed back to our Resort for the second offering of the honeymoon package- a candlelit dinner. They arranged it for us in the small outhouse cottage. This was NICE!
& here was the last day. The day which was the reason for this trip. We were set to experience the UNESCO heritage train ride from Shimla to Kalka. The station is a stone’s throw from the Resort.
We clicked photographs with the train in the backdrop. We made a spectacle of ourselves; people gaped at us, but we were too excited to care. We realized that the seat which is supposed to be for two is really just one & a half. Well, two thin people maybe! It was good in a way as we sat cozily with each other.
The rowdy boys from our bus were on the adjacent seat. We rolled our eyes. The train was choc-a-bloc full. It was a tiny thing with almost no space for luggage. So do ensure you do not board the train with either large bags or with too many bags.
The train pulled out from the station. Thus started a beautiful journey. We traveled through lush-green mountains, through almost 900 bridges and 100 tunnels in a weather that was pleasant.
It rained; we hurriedly closed our windows, but the water found its way in anyhow. People opened their umbrellas. Yes. In the train. The family behind us was lamenting throughout. But we found it amusing, rather than annoying.
The train brought us closer to nature. There were tiny stations along the way, with white cottages & blue roofs for stations, leaping right out of Malgudi Days. This was surely going to remain etched in our memories for as long as we lived…
The train has a decent speed, about 40 kmph. It halts at Kalka from where the broad gauge starts. We boarded the Kalka Shatabdi which fascinated us in another manner. The train was spotless, the air-conditioning worked marvelously, the seats were comfortable, the food was good, and the service was impeccable.
Soon, we were home. Our first heritage train ride had been memorable in more ways than one. Spotting & counting tunnels, a beautiful resort, soothing greenery all around, a salubrious weather, patriotic emotions, a candlelit dinner, & for the first time, liking Shimla…
We recommend an itinerary for four days, three nights:
This three-part series is my attempt to describe how the holy Moon Lake ‘Chandratal’ affected me. You can read Parts I & II here & here.
At my Chandratal camp, we were assisted by a cheerful & talkative lad called Santu. It has been more than a year since I met him, & yet I have been unable to forget him. As he served us piping hot tea, he narrated his story.
Hailing from the nearby village, Santu was neither the schooling kinds nor was he keen to follow what his forefathers did. He dropped out of school after class 8 & moved to Goa to do odd jobs. Soon, his adventurous (& undoubtedly Himachali) spirit beckoned.
Santu took up camping & hiking. Through training & practice, he mastered both. Now, in the inhospitable terrain of Spiti, he leads groups on treks, & waits at the various camps. He was the youngest in his family; I am pretty sure he had his own parental & peer pressures to deal with.
Still, the boy followed his heart & is now doing something he enjoys, and something which helps him support his family too. Most importantly, something constructive!
My lesson no. 3 from Chandratal – This was the time the stone pelting had started to gain momentum in the Kashmir valley. I could not help but compare Santu to the misguided youth of the valley.
One the one hand was a boy who charted his own path while still in school, and was today making money legally. On the other were those kids who had been brainwashed so easily to put their lives in jeopardy.
Santu made me believe that our destiny is what we want it to be – either to be seen in a negative light by an entire nation or to be remembered as an inspiration by a girl sitting miles away.
Now the practical part – what to do near Chandratal?
Well, the simplest option is to visit the Moon Lake. A day trip from Batal/ Losar/ Kaza is feasible.
Do I recommend option 1? Not really. Camping at the Lake is far more fulfilling. If you prefer setting up your own tent, you can also hike your way to Chandratal from Batal (& pitch your tent wherever you feel tired!)
The Baralacha La trek starts from Chandratal. So, if you are capable & willing to trek, go for it! Do remember – it’s not an easy one.
For an absorbent soul like mine, the best way to spend time near the Lake is to soak in the sights & sounds, pay homage to the Indian Army and gape at the Chandrabhaga mountain range!
My trip extended beyond Chandratal to other parts of the Spiti Valley too, and each day brought in more learning, and yes, more memories. I humbly recommend to everyone – enjoy the journey too. Enjoy every moment, for you never know how your life may change!
I see people around me exclaim before traveling, “Oh let’s get there! Then we’ll have so much fun.” The focus is commonly on the destination. Then, do I sound crazy if I say that I enjoy my time getting to the destination more than the destination itself? Maybe it sounds cliched but, for me, it is about the journey. Over the years, each of my journeys has given me a food for thought, a reason to smile, and innumerable memories to carry back home. One such journey for me was to the hallowed Chandratal (Moon Lake).
So, August the last year, after I had been amply scared by all and sundry that monsoon was hardly the time to visit Himachal Pradesh, I set off, with three other travel companions. I knew I was in for stunning vistas and cool climes, but I had not expected that I will get a few life lessons along my way. While there are many ways Chandratal affected my life, I choose three that really drove home a few truths. Moments of realization – ta ding!
When I left the charm of Manali behind & started ascending the forbidding roads to Chandratal, probably everything my well-wishers had said started coming true. At the same time, it filled me with a strength I never felt before. The mountains humbled me & seemed to be questioning me – Who are you? What have you achieved that you hold your life so dear? When death comes to you, would you not rather it did in the lap of the Himalayas, rather than in a cooped-up room in a city?
As these thoughts churned in my head, my vehicle came to a halt. There was a ‘nala’ in which a mini-truck had got stuck. Now, a ‘nala’ in this part of the country can mean road blockades for days, sleeping in the car, running out of food etc. It is not the calmly flowing trickle of Yamuna; it is a surge of water tumbling down the mountain, washing away parts of it as it goes. The poor truck driver tried his level best to rev up the vehicle; alas, like all else man made, this failed too in front of nature.
When it seemed that we would be stuck here too till a JCB arrived, a group of bikers entered the scene. They got down from their bikes, strode into the water, put up rocks to anchor the truck & pushed with all their might. A couple of tries later, the truck lunged forward – it was free! Fist pumps in the air & in my little heart!
My lesson no. 1 from Chandratal – Do not be afraid to take help. It does not matter if the person who is trying to help you is, according to you, incapable to do so; you never know what may click. And if it was not working in the first place any which way, would seeking help make things worse?
Now for the practical part – how to reach Chandratal?
Take an early morning flight to Kullu – Take a taxi to Chandratal (~170 kms)
Minimum no. of days you will need – Three
(Disclaimer One – Flights to Kullu are weather-dependent. Disclaimer Two – Keep a spare day because in Spiti, you never know!)
Take an early morning flight to Chandigarh – Taxi to Manali (night halt) – Taxi to Chandratal (~130 kms)
This is our very first post. Isn’t the first always special? And you typically remember it forever, ensuring you tell whoever-is-willing-to-listen about it. Thus, we are doing the same.
HMS Belfast, London, March
Now, there is nothing extraordinary about us. We are a regular middle-class Indian couple. The only reason we started this blog is to share our travel experiences with the world. We do not call ourselves anything fancy like ‘explorer’ or ‘wanderer’. We are just two perfectly normal human beings out to see our country & the world.
In the course of our travels over the last few years, we have experienced many a new sights, sounds, smells & sensations. We shared our experiences in our social media circles & gradually became someone to whom people reach out for recommendations.
Coconut Trees, Goa, July
So, we thought – why not? Why not create a platform where we can share what we have seen so that others can draw inspiration from it too? Why not share tidbits that made us wide-eyed? Like, did you know that the HMS Belfast pictured above continues to bob? Or, that it is absolutely possible to enjoy Goa even in the monsoon season?
We will pause it here for this is the first post. But we will be back with more. Soon. Till then, let’s go sightseeing!
Featured Image: Somewhere on the way to Chandratal Lake from Manali, August