Travel Shot: The sun temple of Ranakpur

Ranakpur in Rajasthan is synonymous with its world-famous Jain temple. So much so that another, older temple located less than half-a-kilometre from the Jain temple lies virtually forgotten, visited only by the someone who knows about it existence – the 13th century Suryanarayan Temple or Sun Temple.

Ranakpur, Sun Temple, Suryanarayan Temple

It is around 3 in the afternoon when our group arrives at the Sun Temple. Looking back, I’m still astonished that we made it to the temple for there are no signboards or markers to guide a visitor to the Sun Temple. If the manager of our tour group had not known about the Sun Temple, I doubt we would have visited it.

Built from low-grade marble, which has weathered beautifully over the centuries, the exterior of the temple is intricately carved with Surya or the Sun God seated on a chariot drawn by horses. The temple faces east, and has a sanctum topped by a shikhara in the nagara style, and an octogonal mandapa preceding the sanctum. The mandapa has some of the most exquisitely carved pillars and sculpted toranas I have seen. This is the first time I’m visiting a sun temple and I’m fascinated by the unusual motifs and iconography on the walls here.

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Travel Shot: The elevator with the pink seat

The elevator dings its arrival and the doors slide open noiselessly. I step in and look in fascination at the elevator’s interiors.

I am at Hotel Suryagarh, a luxury boutique hotel near Jaisalmer, and am being escorted to my second floor suite by a hotel attendant after completing the usual registration formalities.

“Why don’t you sit down, Ma’am?” the hotel attendant urges me.

This might have been a strange question considering we were in an elevator. But since the elevator had a large, cushioned seat upholstered in a velvet of bright pink, it really wasn’t that strange a question.

Hotel Suryagarh, Boutique Hotel, Luxury, Elevator

I politely decline as I feel a little stupid to sit down for a trip of two floors. But I do notice that the elevator speed is quite slow and discover later that this has been done deliberately to encourage guests to relax and sit down.

And over the over the two days that I spend at the hotel and the numerous trips that I make between my room and wherever I was headed to, I would use the elevator. Get in. Sit down. Relax. Take pictures. Normally, I would have used the stairs, but not this time.

Hotel Suryagarh, Boutique Hotel, Luxury, Elevator

To this day, the luxurious elevator with the pink seat at Hotel Suryagarh remains unique. I have never come across anything like this before, and doubt it I will.

Have you come across unique hotel elevators? Do share.

Travel Shot: The longest grape vine in the world

What I love most about travel is the unexpected. I don’t mean the ‘discovering’ type of unexpected; I mean finding something you were not aware of before and in a place where you least expect it to be.

Take for instance, the trip I made to Hampton Court Palace (near London) in 2009. It was a beautiful summer’s day and I had arrived at Hampton Court Palace in style — by boat over the River Thames, much like how King Henry VIII would have. I spent a wonderful time at the Palace (actually they are 2 palaces, but that is a story for another post!), and wandered around its extensive grounds, tennis courts, privy and knot gardens, and what not, and nearly drained my camera battery with the number of photos I took. Just what I expected a palace in England to be like.

When I came across a rather nondescript looking glasshouse, I almost didn’t go in to explore. But then curiosity won, and I found myself in the presence of the world’s longest, and one of the world’s oldest, grape vine, also known as the Great Vine.

Longest Grape vine, Hampton Court Palace, England, UK, Great Vine

The Great Vine at Hampton Court Palace. If you look closely you can see the vine laden with grapes.

The Great Vine was planted in 1769 on the site of the first glasshouse built in the Hampton Court Palace; today, the Vine has filled up the entire glasshouse. A lot of care is taken to protect the Great Vine from encroachment by other plants, as well as from disease. Only organic manure/fertiliser is used and the Vine is protected from mildew by vaporising sulphur using small electrically operated vaporisers suspended amongst the plant’s branches.

Even after more than 2 centuries, the Vine still produces grapes. According to the official website,

the average crop of black dessert grapes is about 272 kilograms… The grapes are … sold during the first three weeks of September.

I had visited Hampton Court Palace in late July when the Great Vine was laden with plump grapes and were due to be picked in a month’s time. I love grapes and wished I could have tasted them, though I doubt if I would have been able to afford them. Still, that didn’t stop me from imagining what they would have tasted like — juicy, sweet, and just a little sour. Just as I like my grapes.

PS: Apologies for the photograph quality; this one is from my pre-blogging days :-P

Travel Shot: The sculpture with a smile

I came across a very unusual and rare sculpture at the sculpture gallery of the City Palace in Udaipur last February. It was a sculpture of a woman with a smile. What’s so rare about a sculpture with a smile, some of you may ask. Then let me tell you this:

I had seen many types of sculptures — abstract, life-like, larger-than-life, surreal…

I had seen sculptures made from a variety of materials — stone, wood, metal, mesh, ivory, silver, bronze, papier-mache…

I had seen sculptures seen in stylised poses — at dance, at war, making love, in thought, in action…

I had seen sculptures with expressions of anger, agony, pain, peace, serenity and sometimes even with blank expressions, but never a smile. Each time, I left a museum or a gallery or a site where there were sculptures, I would always wonder why. Until I saw this sculpture.

City Palace Museum, Udaipur

The sculpted smile

It was a beautiful sculpture. In spite of the damage to the face, I could not miss the lips turned up in a smile. I’m sure that if the eyes were clearly visible, there would have been a naughty twinkle in them. I promptly named her Muskaan, the one with a smile so infectious that I smiled back at her in return. Did you also smile when you saw Muskaan, dear reader?

I hope that in 2014 I see many more smiles around me — on sculptures and on people and on my blog too.

Happy New Year ! :-D

Travel Shot: The paper pile at the police station

Colva Police Station, GoaFor me, police stations and hospitals are places that are to be seen only when needed and ignored when not needed. Such places are good to have nearby, but not too close, if you know what I mean.

It’s not like I’m scared of them; just that I’d like to keep my distance from them. Most of the times I pretend like they don’t exist !

Last week was one of the times that I didn’t ignore the presence of a police station. I was in Colva (Goa) and the local police station was close to where I was staying. Housed in an old and traditional house that looked really quaint and cute, the Colva Police Station was a landmark in the area. But what caught my attention was a huge pile of papers stacked on an open shelf in the station’s verandah and clearly visible from the road.

Colva Police Station

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Travel Shot: The confluence of blue and grey

Karcham, in the Kinnaur District of Himachal Pradesh, is a pretty ordinary looking place and one can be forgiven for dismissing it as just another Indian town. However it is not “just another Indian town” as I found out.

This is where the highway (or rather the dirt track that passes for one) bifurcates into two — one leads to Kalpa and the other leads to the Sangla Valley. It is here that the Karcham Wangtoo Hydroelectric Plant is situated. And it is at Karcham that the Sutlej and the Baspa rivers meet.

Baspa, Sutlej, river confluence, Kinnaur,

The blue Baspa meets the grey Sutlej at Karcham

According to a Kinnauri legend,

the rivers Sutlej and Baspa are brothers, with former being the older one. Sutlej was the more serious and sedate sibling, and Baspa the mischievous one. Like all siblings the two were rivals for everything, including whose name should be retained where their waters joined at Karcham. It was decided that whoever reached Karcham first would get the honour of lending his name to the river from that point onwards.

And so the two rivers set forth towards Karcham. Baspa, the faster of the two. He rushed forth through valleys and gorges, but was easily distracted and stopped to play with other streams and take mini diversions. On the other hand, Sutlej flowed slowly and steadily towards Karcham. And we know which type of person wins, right?

Sutlej reached Karcham first and that is how the river from Karcham onwards is known by that name even though it contains the waters of Baspa as well.

Wherever I travelled in the Kinnaur region these rivers were never too far from me. If the Sutlej was within my sight from the Kalpa side, the Baspa kept me company in the Sangla Valley. Two brothers, so different in looks and character, both heavily dammed, and yet in their own ways lifelines for the regions they flow through.

The confluence is stark and one can easily pick out the blue of the Baspa and the grey of the Sutlej. It was a sight the kept me mesmerised for a long time.

PS: Isn’t the Kinnauri folktale delightful?