Hawa Mahal – Palace of Winds

Jaipur,the pink city is famous for its forts and palaces, due to its magnificent architecture,the most popular tourist place in India. In my previous blogs I have written about the famous City Palace and the Amer Fort. Now I would like to write about my visit to ” Hawa Mahal” or the Palace of Winds. It was the summer retreat for the Rajput Kings, built by Sawai Pratap Singh in 1799. The windows of the palace allow breeze to blow in and keep the palace cool during the hot summer months. The palace is built in the shape of a crown,as it is believed that the King who built it was a great devotee of Lord Krishna

Hawa Mahal

We entered through the main entrance called ” Anandpoll”,even before we entered I was immensely impressed by the huge red and pink sandstone elegance,that stood in front of me.We walked further to ” “Chandra poll”.

Hawa Mahal at night with a Chinese tourist

What is unique about Hawa Mahal is it looks like a honey comb,on looking at it from the street we may feel it is the front side of the palace,but it is the back side. It has 953 lattice work windows or rather they were called Jharokhas in olden times.I was mesmerized by the intricate designs of the windows. These windows were used by the Royal ladies to view the daily life of the city,the festival celebrations,and Royal processions,as in those days women used to cover their face with a purdah and never showed their face to men ,who were not close family members.

Entrance to Hawa Mahal

Hawa Mahal has five floors and no stairs to climb, but only ramps to reach the top floors.It is an extended part of a huge complex. Each Storey is named differently like Sharad Mandir,Ratan Mandir,Vichitra Mandir, Prakash Mandir and Hawa Mandir (from where it got its name” Hawa Mahal”)

View from the entrance

The best time to visit the palace is early in the morning or at night to see the beautiful illuminated facade.

Nahargarh Fort – Abode of Tigers

A trip to Jaipur also known as the Pink city, is not complete till one visits the majestic Nahargarh Fort, Nahar means Tiger and Nahargarh means abode of tigers. This magnificent fort was built in 1734 by Maharaja Sawai Singh II, actually it was built for defence but it was never attacked by enemies. It is situated on the Aravalli Hills.

On my last visit I decided to visit the fort. We took an autorickshaw, though it was not advised for a steep road, nevertheless ,we decided to be adventurous, and enjoyed our fabulous ride through winding road ,enjoying a glimpse of colourful peacocks among the slightly dense forests. We were also greeted by monkeys, as we headed up towards the fort.

On reaching the fort ,we bought the entrance ticket for Rs. 50.The fort was crowded with many foreign tourists as well. The cost of ticket for a foreign tourist was Rs.200. As we entered the fort we saw the Jaipur Wax Museum, which was on the left side at the entrance of the fort. Walking towards the fort we came across a step well, where a couple of Hindi films scenes were shot.

Step Well

On reaching the entrance of the fort we were greeted by hawkers who were selling puppets in their colourful attire. To coax the tourists to buy the puppets ,they also showed a small puppet show, thoroughly enjoyed by the tourists.

Puppet Show

The main building of the fort is called Madhvendra Bhavan. The palace was used as a summer retreat by the King. He occupied one majestic room and it also had a meeting hall, called Diwan -i- Aam, where at times the King addressed his subjects. We walked through the rooms that were occupied by the queens in those days. Each room still has some frescoes and the Indo – European architecture of each room is captivating. The most interesting thing was that each rooms were interconnected and the staircase lead to a terrace. Oh ! I enjoyed the view from the terrace, as I had a fantastic view of Jaipur city.

View from the Terrace of Nahargarh Fort

After walking through the magnificent royal fort , we were hungry and my daughter had done her homework well before we came here, as she is a food blogger and wanted to visit the famous restaurant called ” Once upon a time at Nahargarh” .As we entered the restaurant we had a feel of getting a royal treatment ,the waiters dressed in traditional clothes greeted us and we were served the best Indian food , with a fantastic view of the city from the archways of the windows.

One must definitely visit the restaurant and there is another restaurant adjoining to it ,called ” Padao”, it serves equally delicious Indian cuisine.

Gokarna Beach

The most visited beaches close to Mumbai are the beautiful beaches of Goa.We decided not to go to Goa ,as it is very crowded and commercialized. We planned to visit a more serene beach in the South of India called the Gokarna Beach.

Gokarna means Cow”s ear.It is believed that Lord Shiva came out from the ear of a cow in the town of Gokarna,where the Temple of Mahableshwara is built,this temple is considered as a very important pilgrimage center for the Hindus.Every year thousands of devotees visit the temple,especially from South of India.In the last few decades the beautiful,untouched beaches of Gokarna has become popular with foreign tourists and then the locals started developing the place with more resorts and hotels to cater to the need of tourists.

Gokarna Beach – View from Zostel

To visit Gokarna from Mumbai we booked our train tickets for the small town of Kumta,which is hardly a few km away from Gokarna. After 18 hours of the train journey we were tired when we alighted in the sleepy town of Kumta. We took a taxi to the place where we were going to stay for another four days.We had booked two cottages at Gokarna Zostel , as we had another couple travelling with me and my husband.

Cottages at Zostel

On reaching Zostel we had lunch at the small restaurant , which had a picturesque view of Gokarna beach ,that really made our day.In the evening we visited the famous Mahableshwara Temple,as it was Diwali festival the small town was lit with Diyas (oil lamps) and Rangoli design outside every home.Shopping in the small shops lined up outside the temple was delightful.We could buy really cheap bead necklaces and some incense sticks. Next morning we visited Kudle beach, one km of white sand lined up with tall ,green palm trees crowded with Indian and foreign tourists. In the evening we went to the Gokarna beach,enjoying some water sports .

Water sports at Gokarna Beach

On the second day of our trip we hired a taxi for the day and visited Mirjan Fort, Yana Caves and Vibhooti Water falls.( I have written about these places in separate blogs.) On the third day we went to Idagunji Ganesh temple and Murudeshwar.

Kudle Beach

On the last day we visited Om Beach,which is in the shape of Om alphabet in Hindi. We relaxed at Namste Cafe and sat on the rocks viewing the sunset of our last evening in Gokarna.

Om Beach

Mirjan Fort

While in Gokarrna, we decided to visit the Mirjan fort, a very old and historic fort,that is now in complete ruins.when we reached there we expected some tourists , but we could barely see many people around.We were thrilled to see the historic fort,the ruins talked about the past .Located on the banks of the river Aghanashini ,spread over 4 acres of land ,it is just 11km from the town of Kumta, in Karnataka.Our guide explained that it was probably built by Queen Chennabhairadevi, also know as the pepper queen or Raina da Pimenta.

We were elated to see the marvelous architecture of the fort ,that was influenced by the Portuguese and the Islamic culture.the use of laterite stones available locally,showed how sturdy the fort was as it had witnessed many battles and still reflected the past glory,though it now is covered with green grass and in the monsoon the green grass gives one a magnificent look of a natural green carpet.We also stumbled across a large well,covered with an iron net,roaming around we saw a couple of more small wells,that must have been constructed to preserve water, during the times of wars.

The fort has four entrances and high walls with massive watch towers and bastions, that sure must have made the fort very secure and safe and the owner must have been able to be protect himself very well .It has a moat and also a few escape gates.We also saw a temple in the fort though no one seems to go to worship there anymore.

The best time to visit Mirjan fort is during the monsoon season.

Murudeshwar Temple

While we were on our trip to Gokarna,we also decided to visit the famous temple of Murudeshwar.We were curious to see the grand temple as this town not only has this temple but also has the world”s second largest idol of Lord Shiva,

As we were nearing the temple,by car , we caught a glimpse of the tall Gopuras.The temple is built on Kanduka hills, surrounded by the waters of the Arabian sea from all three sides.It has a 20 storied Gopuras and we took a lift to the top,to catch a breathtaking view of the 123 feet Shiva idol and the Murudeshwar beach.What is unique about this temple is ,it is not an ancient temple,like other temples in India.The construction of this temple was started in 1990 by a business man .

After visiting the temple we strolled in a nearby park, which has a huge statue of the Sun Chariot,where Lord Krishna is giving knowledge to Arjuna.Later we stood near the tallest Shiva idol to click pictures.The statue is 123 feet tall and took nearly two years to build it.

Murudeshwar is a popular place for pilgrimage and one can also visit the beach,having some water sports.The best months to visit it is from November to February.The festival of Mahashivratri is celebrated here with great zest and enthusiasm.

Sun Chariot
Murudeshwar Temple

Orchha – The Hidden palace

Today let me share with you about my experience of travelling to Orchha a sleepy town in Madhya Pradesh,a land shrouded in mystery.My school trip to this lovely place with my students was an experience in itself.After visiting the famous Jhansi fort our bus moved towards Orchha,which is just 15 km from Jhansi.

Orchha with my students

As we entered the small town,which was once the capital of the Bundela Rajput Kings,we could see the domes of the famous palace. The town was established in 1501 by Maharaja Rudra Pratap Singh.The architecture of Orchha has a good influence from the Mughals as well as the Rajput Dynasty.

The Orchha Fort complex has three beautiful palaces .Jahangir Mahal,with classic Mughal architecture. It has three storeyed and has still retained its grandeur.It also has the Raja Mahal,which attracts many tourists,as it has the decorative murals of Gods and other mythical characters. There are many secret passages in Raja Mahal. It also has two audience hall ,Deewan e khas and Deewan e aam. The third one is the Rani Mahal which has now been converted into Ram Raja Temple. It is the tallest building in Orchha,which was originally the palace of Rani Ganeshkumari ,wife of Raja Madhukar shah,who built the Raja Mahal.

Mural in Raja Mahal

As we entered the complex we had lunch in a royal restaurant ,called Hotel Sheesh Mahal, built by King Udit Singh.This restaurant is a part of the palace and has been converted into beautiful dining hall.It has lovely decor,with high ceilings and glass chandeliers. it also has two royal suites ,giving a picturesque view.

After lunch we strolled around the Jahangir Palace and the Raja Mahal.

Orchha has been added in the list of UNESCO Heritage cities ,very recently.

Complex of Jahangir Mahal

Temple of Kom Ombo -The Hill of Gold

In my last blog on Temple of Horus, I had promised to write about my visit to the Temple of Kom Ombo.We were supposed to visit the temple in the afternoon,but due to the storm our cruise “Royal Princess” did not sail on the river Nile.It started sailing only after midnight and we reached Kom Ombo temple early morning at around 7 am.Some of my students were still in bed,but as we announced that we are in Kom Ombo, within no time everyone was ready.

Our Cruise “Royal Princess”

The temple is just a short walk away from the river Nile, were we got out of our cruise and we had a nice walk towards the temple,in the cool weather.Our tour guide Ms.Marium was ready and we were surprised to hear from her as we entered the temple,that the southern half of the temple was dedicated to the crocodile God Sobek.The other half is dedicated to Horus,the falcon headed God.She also explained that Kom Ombo means “The hill of Gold”.It was built in the Greco – Roman period,located on the east side of the River Nile,45 km north of the city of Aswan.

Walking towards the “Temple of Kom Ombo”

A few steps lead us from the ground to the gate of the temple and we were impressed with the wonderful wall carvings and the courtyard of the temple had massive columns surrounding the courtyard.The inner hall of the temple has a design similar to the outer hall, but the columns are shorter,having the shape of the lotus flower.

Temple of Kom Ombo

We then moved to the chapel of Hathor, which also holds the world”S largest museum dedicated to an animal.The crocodile museum had three glass galleries.We were spellbound to see 22 mummified bodies of big and small crocodiles.The museum was first opened for visitors on Feb 2012.We also saw some crocodile coffins and wooded sarcophagi and a few statues of the crocodile God Sobek, bearing a human body and the head of a crocodile.

The best time to visit the temple is early morning with the sun rise and cool weather,it makes a pleasant visit.We were back to our cruise ready to sail towards Esna.

Temple of Horus – Falcon Headed God

During my visit to Egypt as our cruise reached the town of Edfu, we were really excited to visit the famous temple of Horus.As we got down from our cruise ” Royal Princess” and sat in a horse drawn carriage,passing by the town of Edfu, located on the West bank of River Nile.The city looked very old and traditional.It’s ancient name was ” Wetjeset – Hrw or the palace where Horus was Extolled.

At the courtyard of Temple of Horus

As we entered the temple our guide explained that it is the second largest temple in Egypt also called Temple of Edfu, the name is derived from the ancient Edbo means” The town of piercing” .It is one of the best preserved monument in Egypt visited by thousands of tourists.

The temple contains some of the finest architecture of the Ptolemaic period,dedicated to Horus, Hathor and their son. A large granite statue of Horus one of two found outside the western tower stands in front of the entrance guarding the temple.On its head is the Double Crown of Upper and Lower Egypt.

With the Falcon Headed God – Horus

The temple has detailed Hieroglyphs on worship rituals in Ancient Egypt.We were really busy clicking pictures with the Falcon headed God and as we went back to our cruise, we were eager to visit the next temple at Kom Ombo, about which I will write in my next Blog.

Kennedy Space Center – Space Marvel

Today I would like to share my experience of my visit to the Kennedy Space Center(KSC), located on Merrit Island, Florida.It has been NASA”s primary launch center of human Spaceflight.Launch operations for the Apollo,Skylab and Space Shuttle programs were carried out from KSC launch complex 39.

I got an opportunity to visit KSC with my students in June 2015.We had booked our students for Astronaut Training Called ATX for three days.So during our 15 days trip to United States , we landed in Orlando from Buffalo City ( I will write about my trip to Niagara Falls in another blog) We were 80 students and seven teachers and we boarded a South West Airline Flight.

Landing in Orlando we checked in our Hotel International Palms and in the evening we had a great time at the pool side.Next day morning after a good breakfast we boarded our buses and moved to Kennedy Space center, approximately an hour”s drive from Orlando.Our students were enrolled for the ATX training for three days and on the first day after their training was over we were taken on a tour and we visited the restricted areas of America”s Space port.Our tour included a drive- by of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) and the historic launch ads.My students were really fascinated.

On the second day after the training our bus tour tool us to the Hall of Fame and the tour concluded at the Apollo/Saturn V center, featuring an actual Saturn V Moon rocket and real moon rocks along with other Apollo program artifacts and attractions.We also strapped in for a simulation of the Space Shuttle”s eight and a half minute ascent into orbit.

On the last day we took a tour to the KSC visitors complex. We dined and clicked pictures with Astronaut Jon Mcbride. My students asked him many questions and he answered them very patiently.We clicked several pictures with him and also a group photo .

We also saw the mighty Space Shuttle – Atlantis, a stack of two solid rocket booster and an orange external tank.Space Shuttle Atlantis showcases the priceless, historic spacecraft that tells the incredible story of NASA’s 30-year Space Shuttle Program. Space Shuttle Atlantis is displayed as only spacewalking astronauts have seen her before — rotated 43.21 degrees with payload doors open and its Canadarm (robotic arm) extended.

On the last day we came back to the hotel with many happy memories, buying exclusive souvenirs from the Kennedy Space Center visitors complex , souvenir shop.

Taj Mahal – Wonder of the World

Every year ,in the month of October our school students of grade 9 look forward to their yearly trip to Agra. I remember going to Agra with my students in the year 2016 and 2018 . Alas! no trips in 2020 due to COVID ! I love to look back to my memorable trips to Agra – especially my visit to the ” Taj Mahal” . It is truly one of the seven wonders of the world ! It was designated a UNESCO world Heritage site in 1983.

Taj Mahal was built between 1631 and 1648 by the Mughal Emperor Shahjahan in memory of his beautiful wife Queen Mumtaz Mahal,who died while giving birth to their 14th child.More than 20,000 workers worked for over a span of 22 years to complete the complex.

Entrance to the ” Taj Mahal “

Early morning after breakfast we were around 120 students , we boarded our buses and headed towards the famous monument. Our tour agents bought our entry tickets and we had to stand in a long queue to enter the mausoleum . We could see several foreign tourists and they were eagerly waiting with us to see the white marble monument.

Arriving at the entrance of the Tomb complex, we could see the 30 meter high gatehouse, we crossed it and arrived at the ornamental Char Bagh gardens of the Taj Mahal.The Char Bagh gardens design was inspired by Persian Gardens and spread over 300 meters. The first sight of the Taj Mahal was breathtaking , the glorious central dome, the 40 meter high minarets at each of the four corners, the river Yamuna flowing behind the Taj, the colourful floral inlays and the exquisite marble lattice work , really made us understand the uniqueness of the tomb.