The legends and temples of Ambaji

Ambaji is a temple town located in the Aravalli ranges of North Gujarat, just 10-15 km from the Rajasthan State border. The town gets its name from the Arasuri Ambaji Mata Temple or the Ambaji Temple, one of the 51 (or 52 or 64, depending on which list you follow) Shakti Peeths located in the sub-continent. The name ‘Arasur’ itself is derived from ‘aaras’, the local name for marble which is available in plenty. In fact, the ancient name for Ambaji was Arasan Nagar.

When I first put together a plan to visit North Gujarat in December 2014, Ambaji didn’t figure in the list. It was later, while checking road distances and connectivity between the various destinations that I intended to visit, that I discovered the fact that Ambaji was just 125 km from Mehsana, my base for the trip. Considering Gujarat’s excellent quality of roads, I knew that Ambaji could be visited as a day trip. And that’s exactly what I did.

Ambaji, Road Trip, Palanput to DantaIt was a cold and windy December morning when I set off from Mehsana at 8 am. Since there were no direct buses to Ambaji around the time I left I had to break journey at two places.

First, I took a shared private jeep to Palanpur, and then to Danta, and finally completed the last leg of my journey to Ambaji in a Gujarat State Transport bus. It was a picturesque journey throughout along tree-lined roads. The change in landscape from flat to hilly, as well as the climb from Danta to Ambaji was particularly enjoyable.

Amter Mata Temple, Ambaji, Gujarat, Travel, Shakti PeethIt was around 11 am when I got off the bus at the Ambaji bus stand and headed straight for the Ambaji temple. I didn’t have to ask for directions; all I had to do was to follow the people shouting Jai Mata Di. Within 10 minutes I was at the temple gates and could see its golden spire beyond the entrance arch.

Due to security reasons, visitors are not allowed to carry their bags or any electronic item into the temple and lockers are provided for storing bags and valuables. As the caretaker of the locker room stored my backpack in the locker and handed the keys to me, he casually said: “I think you should hurry up. The temple closes at 11.30.”

I looked at my watch. It was 11.20 am.

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The Rudra Mahalaya Temple at Sidhpur

The gates to the Rudra Mahalaya Temple at Sidhpur are locked when I arrive just before 6 pm that December evening in 2014. Surrounded by modern-day residential houses, the centuries-old temple is deserted and looks like it is holding out against a seige.The twilight makes the temple, which is maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India, look lifeless as well. As I’m wondering what to do, a passerby stops to say, “Call out for the watchman. He’ll come and open the gate.”

I call out for the watchman and the driver of the auto-rickshaw I have hired also adds to my calls. Soon, I can see someone coming out of the temple and walking towards us.

‘Yes?”, he asks.

“I want to see the temple,” I say, prepared to argue it out with him if he says something about closing times or anything else.

“Okay,” he says simply, pulling out a key bunch and deflating my ready arguments immediately. “Put your camera away. No photography allowed here.”

“Why not?” I ask, getting ready to argue again.

“Rules,” is the simple and frustrating answer.

I realise I have no choice in this matter and put away my camera. Only when I put away the camera and close my bag does the watchman open the gates and allow me inside. “You can take pictures from outside the gate, if you want to.”

Rudra Mahalaya Temple, Shiva Temple, Sidhpur, Siddhraj Jaisinh, 12th Century, GujaratI just shrug and follow him inside and stop when I reach the temple. And stare at the sight in front of me. Continue reading

The grand and empty Vohrawads of Sidhpur

I first heard of Sidhpur about 6 months back when I shamelessly eavesdropped on a conversation while commuting to work by bus. In my defence, the conversation, which was between two women from the Dawoodi Bohra community (as was evident from the colourful ridas they wore) in Gujarati and English, was really loud.

It was an animated conversation in which they spoke about their ancestral homes in Sidhpur and the holidays spent there. They spoke of chandeliers, Belgian glass windows, wooden antique furniture, fine linen, tableware, feasts, parties, and antiques among other things. There was gossip, as well as an element of ‘my-ancestral-house-is-grander-than-your-ancestral-house”, but it seemed to be in good fun.

The “conversation” on ancestral homes in Sidhpur intrigued me to look for more information on the Internet. Thanks to my good friend Google, I found in Sidhpur mansions with distinctive European style architecture, each one grander than the other. This information was enough for me to include a visit to Sidhpur when I toured North Gujarat in December 2014.

It was a little after 4 pm when I arrived at Sidhpur. While asking for directions from a local tea stall, I learnt that the Bohra houses were called Vohrawads and also that I needed to go to the Najampura area, which had the best and maximum number of such houses. A short rickshaw ride later, I was standing in front of the house that you see in the photograph below.

Sidhpur, Vohrawad, Comminity housing, Gujarat

Locally, this mansion is called the “house with 365 windows”

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The Sahastralinga Talav, a museum and a conversation

Whenever I visit centuries-old monuments, the one thing that never fails to amaze me is how they were built without machinery of any sort to aid them. I am also struck by how the planners and builders of those times made optimum use of available resources in the absence of technology as we know it today.

A visit to the Sahastralinga Talav at Patan underscored these beliefs of mine. Located a kilometre away from Rani ni Vav, the Talav was one of the many artificial tanks built in Gujarat by Siddharaj Jaisinh (1093-1143 CE), a king from the Solanki Dynasty.

It was past noon when I arrived at the Sahastralinga Talav, after visiting the queen of stepwells. There was no one else at the site apart from a goat-herd and his frisky goats. Even though it was December and winter, it was quite hot and the sunlight very harsh. Due to this, I was initially reluctant to explore further. But I’m glad I did as I would have missed out on exploring a real treasure.

Sahastralinga Talav, Patan, Solanki Dynasty, Gujarat, Water harvesting and water management system Continue reading

Rani ni Vav: The queen of stepwells

Rani ni Vav, Rani ki Vav, Queen's stepwell, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Incredible India, Gujarat, PatanIt is around 10.30 in the morning when I enter the Rani ni Vav (or the Queen’s Stepwell) complex at Patan. It’s a sunny day with bright blue and cloudless skies.

I take this as an auspicious sign for I have been rather unlucky when it comes to viewing stepwells. Be it at Hampi, Champaner or Lonar, the wells were full of water when I visited them, and I was unable to see the step-like feature of the wells. So keenly aware I am of my ‘luck’ with stepwells that I cannot help asking the person selling entry tickets to the monument, if there is water in the stepwell.

I get the reassuring reply that the water supply dried up a long time back and the step well is completely dry. So it is with a spring in my steps and a smile on my face that I enter the complex. Manicured lawns and well laid out pathways welcome me, and I pass a photo shoot, as well as coy couples hiding behind bushes on my way to the stepwell, which is a short walk from the entrance.

Soon the stepwell is visible or rather a fenced off rise and depression is visible and it is only when I am almost upon it that I see steps descending into the stepwell. I have picked up a booklet from the ticket office on the Rani ni Vav and settle down on the topmost step to read and familiarise myself with the history of the stepwell.

Rani ni Vav, Rani ki Vav, Queen's stepwell, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Incredible India, Gujarat, Patan Continue reading

Restaurant Review: Rockville Deli

I received an Asus Zenfone 5 for review about 10 days back and I have been testing out its various features, especially the camera. All pictures in this post (except one) have been taken with that phone camera.


It was dusk when I got out of Vashi Railway Station on Wednesday last week. The  weather was as perfect as it can get in my part of the world — not warm, not cold, a slight breeze and a flaming sunset to match. There was a sense of unhurriedness as people made their way out of the station and I was no different.

I was on my way to Rockville Deli to join other Navi Mumbai Foodies for a meal there with the purpose of reviewing it. According to the information sent to me beforehand, Rockville Deli was a “melting pot of global cuisine served in an innovative and alfresco dining”. I’m always intrigued by multi-cuisine restaurants, and couldn’t wait to see what Rockville had to offer that evening.

I was a little early so had the time for a leisurely stroll to the Deli, which was just a short walk away. I passed food stalls with enticing aromas and much as I was tempted to try something, it was Rockville that I quickened my steps towards.

Rockville Deli Vashi, Navi Mumbai Foodies, Restaurant Review, Continue reading