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Fascinating Pushkar; An Amalgamation of Vibrancy, Tribal Art & Culture

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The World of “Pushkar”

Sipping a cup of coffee in my living room and digital nomading on my IPAD, I noticed the schedule of the Pushkar Fair 2016 and my instincts told me I was heading there. I have fond memories of visiting Pushkar during my childhood and it was sheer nostalgia looking at the opportunity to visit the iconic festival after ages, this time with my little gypsy traveller and relive the magical world of colours, tribal life, art & culture and of course, the stately royalty of camels.

Two Gypsy Souls

So here we were as “Two Gypsy Souls” ready to explore our rustic, wanderlust desires.

Pushkar Mela in Rajasthan

Held every November during Kartik Poornima or the Full moon, Pushkar Mela is considered to be the World’s largest Camel fair offering a magnificent display of the rustic tribal life of this small but vibrant town of Rajasthan to visitors from India & across the globe.

Having shifted my base to Mumbai 4 years back, my emotional connect with Gurgaon (Haryana) always brought me back to the city at least twice a year. Coincidentally, my recent visit was close to the Puskhar fair dates. Being around a 6-7 hour drive from my home town, the traveler in me decided to seize the moment, pack my bags and set out with my crew on a road trip at the wee hours. With the odd pit stop, we went around exploring the scenic, mystic and vibrancy en-route to Pushkar, arriving at our destination early evening.

Thar Desert, Pushkar

Adjoining the Thar Desert, Pushkar is one oldest existing Indian cities, situated in the north eastern state of Rajasthan.

Puskhar Lake

The famous “Puskhar Lake” is one of the five most sacred, holy destinations in India, formed by Lord Brahma, the ‘God of Creation’, by throwing a Lotus flower deep down the realms of 5 Pataals forcing the water to splurge up (Pataal denotes the subterranean realms of the universe- which are located beneath the earth. ‘Patala’ is often known as netherworld)

The lake has 4 main Kund’s, namely, Narayana Kund, Vishnu Kund, Mahesh kund and Brahma Kund.

(As told by Pandari (Priest) Keshav Tiwari, Pushkar Sarovar temple)

The day I arrived in Pushkar was coincidentally the night of Kartik Poornima (full moon), as told to me by the locals, which is considered to be most auspicious. Popular belief is that taking a dip in the Pushkar Lake nullifies all your sins in this life time. While I couldn’t manage the dip, I prayed graciously to Lord Brahma for the prosperity of my family.

The lake has 52 bathing ghats (with stone staircases) and a staggering 500 temples around its banks. Sounded unbelievable! Infact, during all my interactions with the local people, the count seemed to be more than 500. The water of Pushkar Lake is considered to be ‘Divine’ with medicinal powers.

Pushkar Sarovar temple, Rajasthan

Maha aarti on Kartik Poornima, Pushkar

It was a lucky day for me & my crew as we could witness the ‘Maha aarti’ on Kartik Poornima and capture the mystical & divine visuals of Pushkar Lake.

Gurukul, Pushkar

It was refreshing to see the local kids fully involved in the prayers & divine proceedings contrary to the fast changing trends of the digital world where IPADs and smartphones are the new buddies or toys of kids today. A sigh of relief was my real emotion by seeing these kids taking pride in the religious ceremonies- a virtue I want my daughter to imbibe always!

'Mahant' Local Priest, Pushkar

During my conversation with the ‘Mahant’ (local priest), he mentioned that most of the local kids attend the traditional ‘Gurukul’ which imparts academic and cultural knowledge featuring traditional dance forms and native music.

No wonder, the real talent comes from the rustic, small towns & villages of the country!

Market near Pushkar Lake

Right next to the Pushkar Lake is a dazzling market selling amazing artefacts, traditional jewelry, home décor products, etc. Amidst the hustle & bustle, there are food joints offering local delicacies, tattoo zones and much more, making the surroundings extremely colorful & lively.

Traditional Jewelry in Pushkar

Traditional Rajasthani Culture and Bohemian Art

On display is a potent fusion of traditional rajasthani culture and bohemian art in most products on sale, which is a popular attraction for several international tourists visiting Pushkar every year as part of their Rajasthani soujourn, moving onto adjoining cities like Jaipur, Ajmer, Jodhpur.

(Some pieces are highly priced don’t forget to bargain a bit)

 Traditional & Artistic Jewelry in Pushkar

Traditional Art in Pushkar

I have a penchant for traditional & artistic jewelry and couldn’t resist picking few earrings, necklaces during my visit. What’s more- I was amazed to see my younger one- a true, blue Disney fan, exploring some pieces for her.

Incredible India!

Grandeur and Vibrancy of the Local Celebrations

Shopping Experience for Tourists in Pushkar

The scale, grandeur and vibrancy of the local celebrations merged with the rustic flavor offers a spectacular experience for tourists from India and across the globe.

And yes, you have a great chance of overspending, so keep a check on your wallets.

Little Girls Dressed like Goddesses in Pushkar

The little girls dressed like goddesses showering their blessings were enchanting.

Art on Display in Pushkar

Local Artists & Talent in Pushkar

The cornucopia of local artists & talent is widespread in the lanes of Pushkar. Far from the media glare of the urban metros, some of the artisans are hesitant to share their piece of art on media. The brilliant works of art on display is worth every penny and deserve to be showcased in big art festivals or exhibitions.

Roof-Top Restaurant in Pushkar

Finally, we called it a day following up with a sumptuous dinner at a swanky roof-top restaurant painted by art all over, enjoying a feast of local delicacies.

We set the ball rolling at dawn next day, excited to watch the Hot Air Balloon at the fair ground. A lot has changed over the years at Pushkar with new attractions added to the local culture & traditions to appeal to a wider, global audience. I must admit, the Hot Air balloon ride was a well-managed affair and a visual treat for the on-lookers. It was a hazy day with unclear sky and dust all around, one you can expect in the desert state, but it didn’t dampen the spirit of the visitors who had flocked in the wee hours to watch the show.

Pushkr

Hot Air Balloon at Pushkar Ground

Air Balloons Took Off in the Sky, Pushkar

Once the Air balloons took off in the sky, we decided to head back to the hotel, but there was something that stuck me instantly- It was a local magic show consisting of young boys, a monkey and a guinea pig which was fun & hilarious taking me back in time.

Local Magic Show in Pushkar

I had seen many of these magic shows all my life, but yet there was something different and rustic about this one. It touched my emotions for sure and time went by in a jiffy.

What’s more- I reach the hotel and see my little Gypsy traveler (daughter) being friends already, with a group of international visitors putting up in the same hotel. She had found more company than I had during the visit.

Over breakfast, fun conversations, camaraderie and sharing mutual experiences were on display. It was heartening to see these kids bonding and enjoying each other’s company. Great to see different cultures smiling together!

Different Cultures Smiling Together

Local Artists in Pushkar

Mandala Competition in Pushkar

After a quick shower, we headed back to the fair ground for some random shots of my daughter. While she posed with excitement, I participated in the Mandala competition with some local artists.

Wow! It was an amazing experience.

The entire day-wise programme schedule of Pushkar Fair is available online. It’s extremely helpful if you’re short on time & need to plan a quick trip. Selecting events as per your taste makes it easy and convenient for you to organize your travel plan.

Mandala Art by Anita Devi with Saloni Rampal

Mandala Art by Anita Devi from Jhajjar Village in Haryana

I was fortunate to add my flavor & touch in Mandala Art by Anita Devi from Jhajjar Village in Haryana.

Throw Ball Competition in Pushkar

Pushkar fair for me was all about camel races/rides, food, shopping, etc. It was an eye opener to see competitions like Throw Ball, Bride & Groom competitions, Rope walking, camel decoration and many other eventful activities between locals and visitors being added to the fair in all these years.

Truly, my perception of Pushkar had changed forever!

Rope Walking at Pushkar Fair

Locals and Tourists Bond at Pushkar Fair

While locals and tourists bonded in plenty at the fair, I & my friend Paramjit Chawla (Renowned Fashion & lifestyle photographer) also found buddies in Fletcher Oakes and his lovely wife from California. We had an interesting and inspiring chat about travel, photography, art realizing that it was common passion for all of us.

For me, it was like art finding solace in art.

And look at this now!

Kids simply surprise you today! This little girl was interacting with a local musician and even asked him for the instrument to try her hands on it.

Local Musician at Pushkar Fair

Tribal Womens from Pushkar

Tribal women from Pushkar are known for their colourful dances. They have performed in Italy, Spain and many other countries.

Indeed, India is a hub of cultural talent.

Flock of Cattle at Pushkar

There is something magical & mesmerizing about this place. My two young gypsy travelers were busy pampering the flock of cattle that was retiring home.

It was also time for us to retire back with the dusk of the day looking beautiful & serene.

Gypsy travelers, Pushkar

Two Gypsy travelers

Beneath the celestial ador.

Where the wild flowers grow in the melody of life.

Look for tranquillity of mind, drink wild air, and dance in moonlight…

Wander in search of mysteries of life!

Gypsy Traveler in Pushkar

ARRIVING AT PUSHKAR:

a) BY AIR:
There are two airports nearest to Pushkar:

– Sanganeer Airport (Jaipur) – 127 kms away to Pushkar.
– Jodhpur Airport (Jodhpur)- 158 kms to Pushkar.

b) BY TRAIN / ROAD:
Pushkar does not have a train station.
Nearest option is Ajmer Junction.

Pushkar– 10 km away
Ajmer Junction (AII), Ajmer, Rajasthan, Pushkar.

– Hire a cab or self-drive to Pushkar from Delhi or Jaipur.
– Delhi to Ajmer is 389 kms and Ajmer to Pushkar is 11 kms.

ACCOMODATION AT PUSHKAR:

Pushkar offers many options ranging from small, budget hotels to premium hotels on the price band of Rs.2000/- to 15,000/- per night. If you want to be closer to nature and be more adventurous, there are air-conditioned cabana tents, luxurious resorts and royal retreats.

Various attractions in Pushkar are: Pushkar Lake, Brahma’s Temple, Varaha Temple, Merta, Aptaeshwar Temple, Pushkar Cattle Fair, Rangji Temple, Camel Safari, Savitri Temple, Para gliding, Desert safari etc.

The Best time to visit Pushkar is October- March.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Ramesh Nair

    January 16, 2017 at 11:37 am

    Sal, Simply outstanding!!.. Pushkar never been explored or explained this way..it was always looked upon as another long weekend destination. You have made the travel details made that place I am looking forward to visit. The photographs of the place were just another good work of yours. Thanks

    • admin

      February 1, 2017 at 3:32 am

      thanks so much Ramesh. I am glad you liked the same.

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Top 5 kick off reasons to have a beachy affair in Dapoli, Maharashtra

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Saloni Rampal at Beach in Dapoli, Maharashtra

Life is so different at Beaches. The music of tides, footprints in sand, the colorful sunsets in sky and silver lining on the sea all brings tranquility of mind body and soul. I have been a beachy girl all throughout my life and can’t do away with them.

For me given a chance every day should be a beach day. A simple walk bare foot in the sand hearing to sound of tides is like music to my ears.

Sunsets and Sun Rises on the Beach, Dapoli

Over years just sitting and watching sunsets and sun rises on the beach has taught me so much, every sea shell you see has a story.

The piece of that land that you stay on makes you feel warm and cosy yet tides in life makes life meaningful. For me I keep going back to the sea for my heart yearns for a sea and a little cottage just to be.

Beach in Dapoli, Ratnagiri Maharashtra

My next weekend getaway was a yet another beachy affair at Dapoli a small town in Ratnagiri Maharashtra about 250 Kms from Mumbai.
Dapoli has far reaching stretch of beach right from Dabhol in the south and kelshi in the north.

Here’s a perfect sketch of the place and what all it has in store for you to make it a part of your Weekend getaways bucket list.

TOP 5 KICKOFF REASONS FOR A BEACHY AFFAIR AT DAPOLI, RATNAGIRI, MAHARSHTRA

Romantic Weekend Breaks

1. Looking for some cosy romantic weekend breaks

Its important to keep romance fresh in a relationship. In today’s age and time what’s missing in a relationship is quality time together. Taking short romanticescapdes helps bond couples better.
Do some fun together on beaches, have meaningful conversations watching sunsets and express your love like crazy in warm and cosy resorts by the sea. A perfect concocation for rejuvenating romance in life.

Romantic Beaches In Dapoli

Dapoli offers just that a fine white sand cover and wild breeze. Most popular beaches In Dapoli are from the stretch starting from Murud Harnai to Ladghar.

For sake of romance my pick would be Kolthare Beach, one of the most secluded beaches in Dapoli. They have small resorts to offer accommodation.

Resorts to Offer Accommodation at Kolthare Beach, Dapoli

And for those who like people around the corner Murud Harnai to Ladghar stretch is popular with tourists. There are some of the best resorts and hotels around the same. If you are looking for some beach front resorts then Murud Harnai to Karde is what you should search for.

Family & Friends Wonderful Memories on Dapoli Beaches

2. Short family weekend getaways

Weekend escapades with family & friends create wonderful memories for life.

Be it a sandcastle building competition, chasing the waves or running after baby crabs that come to shores with the waves.

Ladghar Rocky Beach, Dapoli Maharashtra

Ladghar Rocky Beach

A bit of sunbathing and exploring rocks on the beach; a wet and wild walk along the coastal path or a playful sport like badminton –Throw ball on the beach.There is something for the whole family.

The sunsets points at Dapoli are something worth visiting.

Sunsets Points at Dapoli
3. Sea Adventures

Sea Adventures at Dapoli

Dapoli offers watersports and boat rides to arouse your thrilling instincts. You can feel the breeze chasing wild as you parasail in waters with your spouse/ buddies for that wild and wet experience.

Banana Boat Ride at Dapoli

One can enjoy thrilling Banana boat ride. Nothing can be more exciting than riding against currents on an inflatable boat along with your friends for that joyous ride.

Jet Ski rides and other popular water rides like bumper rides are available in Dapoli.

Dolphin watching

Amongst the water sports another rip roaring activity is the Dolphin watching in mid waters. It can cost between 250-1500 Rs for an exclusive ride. Spotting a dolphin is a matter of chance and chances are better early in the March-May season.

4. Architecture is a visual art with stories to be told.

Walking through old monuments often make me feel, old places have soul. There is story there to be told. Unfolding history often makes you richer in your thoughts and beliefs.
Dapoli offers few worth interesting sites to be explored.

Dapoli is abode to some revered temples and forts of Konkan. Popularlised as the Parashuram Bhumi, Dapoli houses a temple of Parashuram at Ade.

Picturesque view of Kadyavarcha Ganpati Temple
Picturesque view of Kadyavarcha Ganpati Temple in Anjarle from a hill top.

Durga Devi temple in Harnai which is one of the most visited temple other than Kadyavarcha Ganpati Temple located in Anjarle.

Ganesh Temple in AnjarleGanesh Temple in Anjarle

Kadyavarcha Ganpati Or Ganesh temple is built on a hill top. The diety “Ujwya Sondecha Ganpati is a wondereous idol with its trunk turned towards its right side. The temple is located in Anjarle ahead of Harnai about 25 kms from dapoli at home turf position offering panoramic view of the surroundings.

Keshavraj Temple

Other temples worth visiting are Keshavraj and Vyaghreshwar temples located in Asud.

Few other historical spots like Panhalekaji Caves discovered in 1970 are filled with exquisite art and impeccable craftsmanship. There are 28-29 budhist caves with inscriptions in Brahmi & Devanagari. Panhalekaji is about 30 Kms from Dapoli

Panhalekaji Caves

Panhalekaji Caves

Kanakdurga Fort near the Harnai port is t in ruins, spread over half an acre there is Lighthouse there. Another fascinating fort is Suvarnadurg Fort on a rocky island about 8 acres. It’s interesting to find the main gate of the fort with carved figures of a tiger, eagle and elephants. There are 15 old guns in the fort. There are Fishing boats available from Harnai port.

5. Conversations with Nature…(Nature walks) and fruits of nature

Nature walks in Dapoli
In all my expeditions one things I never amiss is a good healthy nature walk; for I believe that nature has so much wisdom to offer and restore peace within. And its so well put together by someone that “In every nature walk, one receives more than one seeks”. That’s one thing one should never miss in their soujourns conversations with nature are much more rewarding then our usual conversations with gadgets that are dominating the sad scene today.

Dapoli offers plenty of lush green surrounding by the sea and around for you to just take a troll together with your loved ones or alone.

I spotted no. of Mango fruit orchards and just couldn’t resist plucking few to try the taste of nature. Naturally divine and satifying was my experience. Unadulterated or artificially modified these Alphonso mangoes were to die for. Just like a small child I found myself in my natural candy land relishing my love for mangoes.

“Fruit is but of course nature’s candy” . Dapoli , Ratnagiri is hub to world famous alphonoso mangoes for the season.

Alphonoso mangoes in Dapoli , Ratnagiri

Mangoes here are nurtured with utmost care and deep down knowledge by the people in the trade for generations now. The process is followed with deep down knowledge and nurturing nature with utmost care and love. No wonder why Ratnagiri Mangoes are world class.

Must carry a box of Pure Alphonoes Mangoes from Ratnagiri.

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5 Top Reasons Why Jammu should be in your Travel bucket List

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Concoction of History, Food, Culture and Spiritual Abodes.

Jammu, popularly known as a city of temples, is not just a spiritual abode. It’s a destination that offers much more in terms of culture, heritage, food, shopping and history.

Talking about history, the name itself was derived from the ruler and founder of Jammu, Raja Jambulochan. Historically, the roots of Jammu go way back in 14th century B.C.

I have a natural fascination for Jammu & Kashmir’s culture and tradition. What’s most known about Jammu is the fact that it’s a city of temples, the summer capital of Kashmir and the biggest Hindu shrine of Goddess Vaishno Devi is in Jammu.

Most visitors & tourists to this city consider halting in Jammu and then progressing with their onward journey to Maa Vaishno Devi Shrine.

Now that’s like not acknowledging the city at all.

Hence, my intent to cover this destination was very clear; unveil the lesser known facts about the city. Talkfest the place, so next time you’re there, keep a few days dedicated for this humble and beautiful city. And trust me, you will be fascinated with the hospitality that is tough to find in today’s high paced virtual world.

View of Jammu from an AirplaneBird view of Jammu CityJammu City Street Sign Board

Flying to Jammu is always a sheer delight; with breath-taking views of green pastures and snow clad peaks that one can spot on flights, that first land in Kashmir and finally descends in Jammu.

River Tawi in JammuThe city showers simplicity, serenity and solitude in abundance. It is believed that once when hunting on banks of River Tawi, Raja Jambulochan was awe struck to witness a Lion & a Goat drinking water together and later departing on their own ways.

He dropped the idea of hunting, came back to his companions and said that a place where animals lived in harmony and peace was blessed enough to build a palace. This led to origin of the place earlier known as Jambu–Nagar, later Jammu.

One can witness peace, music and ecstasy of nature that’s missing in a city’s hustle and bustle. It’s beautiful to just sit by the banks of River Tawi and meditate with nature, it refreshes your soul and brings tranquillity of mind.

The place is bestowed with natural walking trails up and down hill along with banks of River Tawi that are just so perfect for a healthy morning onset.

Jammu

Natural Walking Trails, River Tawi

Rock Statues at Bahu Fort & Garden

Temple of Goddess Kali at Bahu Fort & Garden

Bahu Fort & Garden

Beautiful Greenery at Bahu Fort Garden

Family encounters in Bahu Garden & Fort, Jammu

1. Family encounters with Nature

Bahu Fort & Garden referred as Bagh-E Bahu is situated uphill rock face left to the bank of River Tawi. It’s an old fort in the city constructed by Raja Bahulochan about 300 years ago. There is a temple of Goddess Kali also known as Bave Wali Mata along with beautiful gardens, which is now ‘Fort Garden’ for public. One can spot beautiful greenery, overlooking the city. There is a Public Aquarium for kids, numbers of waterfalls and rock statues in the compound.

Walnuts

Sund Panjeeree (Indian Sweets)

Chocolate Barfi

Snack and Dryfruits Shopping, Jammu

Kashmir Art Emporium

Raghunath Bazaar Shopping, Jammu

2. Shopping & Eateries

Not many know that Jammu is a shopper’s paradise. One can find best of woollen wears and apparels, diverse food platters, dry fruits, Indian spices and many other items.

The famous “Raghunath Bazaar” is very popular among the tourists/pilgrims, named after the famous Raghunath temple right next to it.

The market is famous for Snack items, Red kidney beans, Indian spices, Dry fruits, Chocolate Barfi, Sund Panjeeree (Indian Sweets) etc. amongst the locals and even with tourists.

Amritsarian Di Hatti at Raghunath Bazaar and Pahalwan Di Hatti at Gole Market, Gandhi Nagar are popular places to relish these sweet delicacies.
People of Jammu have a sweet tooth and are fond of eating quick bite snacks which is why one can spot food in plenty to savour your taste buds. And trust me some of the finger food is a culinary delight without doubt.

The other popular shopping destination in Jammu is Gole Market which is across Tawi River in Gandhi Nagar locality.

This market is famous for modern shopping including electronics, garments, footwear and other modern accessories.

Raghunath Bazaar Eateries

Kaladi Kulcha (Maish Krej)

Maish Krej in Kashmir

Delicacies to Eat in Jammu

Red Kidney Beans & white steam Rice

Ram Laddoo Jammu has a whole lot of local delicacies that one can savour.

Delicacies which shouldn’t be missed are:

  • Ram Laddoo or Gul Gule made of healthy chickpeas served with Grated Raddish & Mint Chutney.
  • Red Kidney Beans & white steam Rice.
  • Aloo, Chole & Poori from Rawal Pindi Halwai in Jain Bazaar.
  • Kaladi Kulcha popularly known as Maish Krej (in Kashmir). It is an authentic dogra Cuisine and tastes like Mozzarella.

Old City Charm in Jammu

3. Old City Charm

Sometimes I feel, its best that some things don’t change with time, after all it defines our culture and heritage. And some of the old fashioned things like stillness of time, fresh air are hard to beat. Jammu is a perfect case in history offering old charm aura around the city. You can spot places that offer fresh air, sunshine and greenery to rejuvenate your senses; one can also find conventional practices of barbers, tailors, fruit vendors and others. Seeing them so involved in their craft, untouched by technology, excites me enough to try my hands at them to relive history.

The sight of rustic old city charm fascinates me each time and for more than obvious reasons!

In an era of fast-paced city life where everyone is struggling; it’s good to take a break and adopt pace of nature whose secret is patience and solitude. And Jammu is a perfect answer to that.

Raghunath Temple in Jammu

Gurudwara Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji

Peer Khao cave Temple

Peer Baba Ki Dargah, Jammu

4. Heavenly Abode

Jammu is popularly known as a valley of temples. But what’s lesser known is that Jammu breathes harmony in cultures and nourishes them each day.

The place is an abode to number of spiritual places with few major ones being:

a) Raghunath Temple

Situated in the heart of the city, 130 years old the temple was established by Maharaja Gulab singh, founder of J&K and completed later by his son Maharaja Ranbir Singh in 1860 A.D. The temple has no. of saligrams and is dedicated to various deities connected with epic Ramayan. The temple has 7 shrines and a tower each. The main sanctuary is dedicated to Lord Vishnu the eight incarnation of Lord Rama.

b) Gurudwara Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji

One of the historic gurudwara of Jammu situated in Prem Nagar, Old Heritage City. The Sanctum sanctorum of the gurudwara houses a 3-feet long, white coloured marble statue of Guru Nanak Dev Ji which locals believe that Maharaja Pratap Singh had installed. During Singh Sabah Movement, the statues were removed from gurudwara’s, however this one got missed out and thus, remains. The gurudwara was built as a mark of respect to the visit of Guru Nanak sahib. It is said that Guru Sahib stayed here while returning to Punjab via Kashmir.

c) Peer Khao cave Temple

The temple has a Shiva lingam and it’s believed that Jamvant (the bear god) from epic Ramayana meditated here.

One can spot lots of monkeys outside the temple.

d) Peer Baba Ki Dargah

Dedicated to Islam Saint Peer Budhan Ali Shah, Peer baba is most popular with tourists and locals. The legends says the grave belongs to the saint who survived 500 years only on milk. It is said tendering flowers and chaddhar on Thursdays at this place helps in fulfilling ones wishes and desires.

 

5. MATA VAISHNO DEVI SHRINE

So much is known and written about the shrine that my few lines wouldn’t make a difference. So I rather chose to share the divine bliss and celestial pleasure, I experienced that made my belief in the supreme energy more secure and hearty.

The Call of Mata Vaishno (Goddess Vaishno)

“Chalo Bulawa aaya hai; Mata ne bulaya hai…..Zor se bolo Jai Mata Di, Saare Bolo Jai Mata Di…”

Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine

Its’s often said that one cannot visit Goddess Ambe or famously known as Mata Vaishno Devi till the time the will of the Goddess is there.

I grew up with this saying but never understood or probably felt the impact till recently. I finally got to visit the shrine after 15 years since my last visit and 4 years of futile plans that eventually got ‘Mata’s’ blessings.

They say that people visit when they are either blessed, or they get married or probably their wishes come true. Mine was no less; my humble prayer had been answered and I had pledged that when it does I would pay my gratitude to Goddess. But circumstances didn’t permit me to make it to the shrine.

I waited in vain for almost 4 years till finally Goddess answered my prayer and I was blessed to visit her Darbar.

It was then I realised what the phrase meant and the power behind it.

Quick Facts for Pilgrams

How to Reach Katra

For those who haven’t been to the shrine or it’s been long due, here are few quick facts to plan.

  • Distance

Jammu to Katra is about 50 kms by road. One can reach Katra by car, train or local buses.

  • Katra to Ardh Kuari-7 K.M
  • Ardh Kuari to Shrine: 6 K.M.
  • Shrine to Bhairo Baba Temple – 1.5 K.M.

The total distance is about 14.5 Kms

Shrine Location

Katra is situated at 2500 ft above sea level and Shrine is based at an altitude of 5200 feet above sea level in the hilly terrains of Trikuta Mountains.

Registration

One needs to register with Yatra Registration counter (YRC) near Bus Stand Katra. A picture, name and the place you hail from is taken by the authorities. It is ideal to carry your Identity Cards and be fully prepared for any checks and adherence to rules.

Photography

Photography is not permitted inside the shrine-hence you would have to excuse me for not providing pics. Best is to carry your cameras and phones which can be safely kept in lockers provided before entering the shrine.

Online Services

The shrine board offers sufficient information for Yatris to plan their visit.

Darshaani Darwzaa

Where there is a will, there is a way….

The Journey starts from Darshaani Darwzaa; one can have a full view of Trikuta mountains. Though my earlier journeys have been on foot both sides, I decided to try if I could still manage it.

I personally believe, “When mind begins to age, physical endurance starts to fall;” for me I am mentally strong and was not willing to give up so I started to walk.

For those who plan to visit the shrine; the Journey till Ardhkuari is steep and dizzy. It’s good to see that there are medical check points for assistance, F&B counters to energise you through the journey.

If covering distance by foot is not something you can manage then there are facilities like Ponies, Porters called ‘Pithhus’ who offer service to either carry luggage or small child. There are buggies or Palkis which are carried by people on their shoulders. The charges are all authorised and even checked with pilgrims at end of their journey to avoid being fleeced.

I was accompanied by my dear buddy and my counterpart who is a photography virtuoso. I was quite impressed with his will as he had just recovered few days from a surgery and was asked to avoid elevation and stress for few weeks.

Walking quite a distance; I started to give up as the roads got narrower, steeper and the elevation started to get on to me. I was feeling surprised and helpless as the route wasn’t new to me but few health issues were restricting this. While my friend too was exhausted for obvious reasons but there wasn’t a single grin on his face.

I felt dizzy and my mind started to convince me that I wouldn’t be able to do this, the whole thought looked dim and I eventually felt tragic. From somewhere, this pony man came and offered to give me a ride. Though I was in no mood to take it, I finally did for the first time in my life. And I am glad I did; we reached Ardhkuari in an hour and the ride was quite breezy and refreshing. I got down and realised that Mata stood with me and strengthened me as the descend had finally begun.

Someone rightly said that the genuine will of a person has that power that it can move things in ones favor. It’s not that I could have not hired a pony myself but the fact that I didn’t even when the exhaustion was taking toll on me and things had started to look dim with that my mind completely going blank.

There are two diversions, one is the old track about 6.5 Kms long and the other is the new one about 6 Kms, all leading to the bhawan. The new track also offers automotive services from Ardhkuari to Bhawan.

But I decided to walk the distance, though it’s not steep as the earlier part but the elevation does make it a bit difficult. I am glad I was able to make it.

Himkoti and Sanjhiichaat in Jammu

From Ardhkuari, the next two main spots are Himkoti and Sanjhiichaat.

Like I said before, one can spot a number of beverage counters but no eateries on this route. So take a break and eat at Ardhkuari.

On this journey, I interestingly noticed these sevaks who offer to put their hand behind your back and push you to walk, offering support to your spine. This truly happens in India only.

Himkoti is another important point in the journey upto the Bhawan that offers beautiful and scenic views of the journey while Sanjhichaat is also popular for Helicopter services. The Helipad is based from here and a prior booking needs to be done as there is an extensive waiting period.

The journey till Bhawan was exhausting, so I decided to freshen up before depositing my equipment’s. There are bathrooms for a quick shower and food eateries too.

Food wasn’t on mind as I just wanted to seek blessings of the divine ‘Goddess’. I freshened up and lined up in the long queue leading to the shrine. The sheer look of the long que made me gloomy as I was due to return back the same day and it was already evening and in hour or so temple would close for almost 2 hours.

While in the queue, with no clue of what was in store for me, I saw a man walking straight up to me and offering me his keys for locker since he was already over with his Darshan. Without wasting any more time, I thanked him and rushed to grab few bags of Prasad in name of friends and family. It was while walking the trail up, I realised that when you can’t put prayers into words, God hears your heart.

Mata indeed had been with me throughout my journey; I had experienced her celestial bliss. And finally my moment had arrived I was right at the beginning of the marbled platform in front of the cave (man-made one).

All that tiredness, exhaustion seem to just vanish as soon as I was in front of the altar. My friend too felt the same.

Mata Vaishno Devi

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Finally, we both were in front of goddess, in form of three Holy Pindies manifesting Maa in three forms of Maa Lakshmi; Maa Sara Swati and Maa Kali.

Just few seconds of this glimpse, energized my soul and we came out of the cave.

When I thought finally our journey was blessed, my friend told me that he wasn’t satisfied and wanted to meet Maa once more. The task looked not possible to me owing to security reasons and army arrangements. But Like I said where there is a strong and earnest will; Maa is always there. And yes to my surprise, we took a reverse turn in line, went and requested the security personnel and were taken aback to hear a ‘Yes’.

Their Yes, reinforced my belief that Maa is omnipresent throughout your journey, watches you and your intent.

No matter who you’re, No matter what you’ve done, No matter where you’re, Goddess wants us to come home to her someday, some time in our life because mother never turns her back on children.

On my way back I had tears in my eyes as I understood that mother never turns her back on her children and the only time she does that is for them to hop on.

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Cool Mommies Adventures in Goa

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You know you’re a mom when your hobbies include neglecting yourself; never getting your hair right; rushing with wrong colour combinations; picking up your couch cushions from floor thrice a day; day dreaming of a peaceful sleep and repeating the same old excuse for not having time for a facial.
Yet, you are the boss of the house and an awesome super mommy.

Here’s a sneak peak on Why mommies should take solo trips with friends minus family:

Donning a Mommie’s hat to keep home and family together, we often forget that no matter how good we may be at our work, bringing up kids and home 24 x 7 is still a thankless job.

Its when my spirit and energy levels start to dip. I know it’s time to have a mommy vacation.

To have a life-partner who supports your endeavor to take a break and look after children is a boon- I’m blessed to have one. Normally, I plan my solo expeditions with my best friend bearing in mind budgets and my hubby’s work schedules.

It’s the best way to unwind and recharge your inner self. Trust me, it’s a not a luxury but a necessity that one must invest in.Finally it was decided, I was going to GOA on a solo trip with my best friend.

So here we were two gypsy mommies all set for our adventures in Goa.
Aboard the flight, I realized it was excruciating, liberating and remorseful at same time. While I really needed this break, but probably people like me can’t just disconnect from the role that they play 24 x 7.

On the other side,my friend seemed completely chilled and all set to breathe freedom. Well it’s not necessary that two people have same stories yet be the best buddies. I guess opposites attract.

So before we took off, I sent a message to my husband & daughter saying” Miss you both”.

Saloni Rampal Goa trip with FriendsIt was an ordeal to find balance mentally between responsibilities, knick-knack of households and my own needs  for those 45 minutes in the plane.

Finally we landed in Goa. And I switched on my mobile from flight mode with a big smile as my message had the sweetest response I could have received at that moment. The message read “Your kid is my daughter too; don’t worry we shall have fun too”! So sit back and enjoy your holiday”.

Sometimes, I wonder how my better half knows me so well, actually more than I know myself. His words brought me so much peace, comfort & simply relaxed my exhausted muscles and tensed brain.

I suddenly felt disconnected and all set in a new avatar to enjoy & chill.

“Good Times in Goa” had just started.

Good state of mind rejuvenates ones overall health and keeps you on track for the family. While it also gives a chance to the ‘Father’s to bond well with kids and you come back as New person or at least as “You”.

It’s important that the place you choose basis your budget is comfortable & cosy. We opted for a cosy woody resort in North Goa bang on the Calangute Beach, Baga Bardez.

Woody Resort in North Goa

What I admired about the resort were the interiors and small little balcony facing the pool. The balcony turned out to be our favorite as we spent quite a bit of time having coffee conversations. Sometimes conversations like these with your best friend are the only therapy you need.

To fuel our hungry taste buds, we decided to go for some ‘Goan’ food by the beach.

Shacks on the Calangute Beach

The shacks on the Calangute beach are simply mesmerizing and clean making the ambience calm and serene.

While having lunch, we decided our 3 day itinerary which was a combination of food on beaches, visit to few forts & churches that I am particularly fond of and a day full of shopping which is my friend’s all time favorite activity.

Setting our itinerary, we both discovered that going on a solo trip together also requires giving space and freedom to balance each other’s choices and tastes. Hence for us, it was a combination of tastes wisely bifurcated on the time we had in hand.

We hit for some beachy affair and post that it was time for some action- girl’s favorite sport- “shopping spree”.

Shopping in Goa

We hopped in to quite a few outlets, conversing & chit-chatting which reminded me of my college days and shopping sprees unlike mommies discussing kids shoe sizes and how fast they grow up.We had a great time!!

Night life in Goa is equally mesmerizing.

Night life in Goa

The beachy girls that we are, dinner was bound to be at one of the shacks with live music and dance. We relaxed on lazy bamboo chairs, sipping our mocktails and enjoying lavish sea food. And how could we miss the gypsy fun of hair beading, a must do.

Forts and Churches in Goa

Next morning after a filling breakfast, we headed to my favorite expedition, forts and churches in Goa. On way, while we spotted lots of churches. I discovered that Goa is abode to a lot of temples too.

If you are someone who admires or loves to explore history, then one must visit Bom Jesus Church in Old Goa.
 Alas! What a magnificent Church it is; truly a world heritage site and a breathtaking example of Borque architecture.

It’s called Bom Jesus meaning Good Jesus or infant Jesus to whom it’s dedicated.
The main facade has letters HIS engraved which means JESUS in Greek.

Bom Jesus Church in Old Goa

It’s a huge church inside, with two main chapels, a main altar and sacristy besides a choir inside. Large rows of pews add to the church’s grandeur.

After spending some time back in history,we went into some more frenzy. I am not too much of a bollywood movie buff but some iconic movies do make me Filmy (Movie addict).

Fort Aguada made me nostalgic, best known for being the backdrop to 3 best friends in one of the most popular buddy flicks in Bollywood- “Dil Chahta Hai”. Sounds cheesy but no harm indulging in something dramatic once in a while.
It’s a beautiful 4 km drive from Sinquerim beach and can be approached via vehicles, the road is surrounded with trees, there is another 2 km foot path but is a slightly elevated terrain.

Fort Aguada

The Fort looks majestic and its grandeur justifies the rich history. Acknowledged as the most prized and crucial fort of Portuguese, the fort is spread over the entire peninsula on the south western tip of Bardez. It was built strategically to be used as one of key defence against Portuguese and Marathas.

Saloni Rampal at Fort Aguada

We trolled over the upper deck of the fort; the light house stands tall as if still guiding the ships. Interestingly, in the initial days, it used to emit light once in 7 minutes and then it was changed to emit light forming an eclipse every 30 seconds and finally the practice was abandoned in 1976.

We were trying to recreate that moment in the Fort, feeling young and kid dish but who wants to grow up anyways.  Like Peter Pan says “Never grow up”.

Finally, we headed back to our hotel and crashed in bed. Mommies were tired indeed!! An hour of soundless sleep was good enough to put the mommies back in action.

It was time again for our favorite activity “Shopping”.
We were told by the hotel staff that one who comes to Goa on weekends especially on Saturday, must venture at Arpora Saturday Night Bazaar. I must confess they were right.

I won’t talk much rather let my pictures do the talking. A bit expensive for few things but it is a must visit for sure.

Street Markets on Weekdays & Weekends in Goa

Goa is heaven for shopaholics; what’s interesting are the street markets on weekdays & weekends that offer a lavish array of handicrafts, clothes, food, artifacts, paintings and a lot more. These markets are not just confined to locals but to foreign nationals who stay on long hauls in this city.

No wonder, Goa offers Anglo-Indian lifestyle.
Few other markets that top the charts are Anjuna Wednesday Flea Market, Calangute Market, Baga Night Market (Saturdays), Margao Market, Tibetan Handicrafts Market.

Need I say more; see it to feel & experience it.

Markets in Goa

All good things come to an end; it was time to head back home, fresh and energetic. I had mixed feelings; I guess that’s how mommies DNA are made of. I did bid Au revoir to Goa with my gypsy mind already wandering over my next solo trip.

To all those mommies out there, what I have learnt from my solo adventures is that “Investing in yourself and taking care of yourself is part of taking care of your family”.

Top 10 thumb rules one should follow on women solo trips; doesn’t show or prove that you are old fashioned, coward or not adventurous but I believe in enjoying and being safe.

Well for both of us, adventure was definitely on our mind but we also did have our rules in place.

Rule # 1; Best to hire authorized city prepaid taxi service.
Rule # 2: Book family hotels in popular locations in city rather than remote & cut-off locations.
Rule # 3. Walk most places while exploring and use local, authorized transport then hitch-hiking.
Rule # 4. Buy your own food and drinks while making new friends.
Rule # 5. In Pubs & Clubs, avoid disclosing too much information about yourself. Having a good time doesn’t require you to be agony aunts & narrate sorrow tales to acquaintances over a few drinks.
Rule #6. Being a Mommy doesn’t bar you from wearing a sexy beach outfit but what’s the harm in wearing a modest one when alone.
Rule # 7. Adventure activities are fun and a must on holiday but one can avoid the ones that are risky.
Rule No. # 8. Best to carry a back pack and carry your valuables with you.
Rule No. # 9. Avoid night outs with strangers- moderate late nights are fine.
Rule No. # 10. Always keep local helpline nos. handy and feeded in your mobile. Carry fully charged mobile phones and power banks in your bag to be connected always. GPS and location tracking should be always on a switch on mode.

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