Festivals of India: Tarnetar Fair, Gujarat

India is a diverse nation. Everyday people are celebrating something in various parts of this huge nation. We know about many religious and cultural festivals but have very basic (in many cases none) knowledge about the art themed fairs & festivals celebrated across the country along with some traditional religious festivals which are pulling many tourists now a days.

This specific Travel series of mine concentrates on the calendar of those festivals which every Indian should proudly attend and enjoy!

tarnetar umbrella
Local man with a colorful umbrella

When?

The fair is held for three days every year in August. The 2017 dates of the fair are 25th to 27th August. The 2018 dates are yet to be announced.

Where & How to Reach?

The Tarnetar Mela is also known as the Trinetreshwar Mahadev Mela. The mela or fair is organised in a village called Tarnetar in the town of Thangadh. Chotila is the nearest town or city center from Tarnetar which has ample options for accommodation. There are a few lodges and small scale hotels in Thangadh (8.2 km i.e. 17 minutes away from Tarnetar). But still I would recommend you to secure your stay in Chotila. Chotila is very well connected by roads to all the major cities in the state. The nearest railway station to Chotila is Than Junction, which is 23 km i.e. 35 minutes away from the destination. The nearest airport to the destination is Rajkot (45.1 km i.e. 50 minutes away).

Gujarat tourism also offers special packages and tented accommodation which you can review on their official website.

Tarnetar- chotila map
Tarnetar-Chotila
fair 1
The entrance gate for the fair
temple
The Trinetreshwar Mahadev Temple

What is it?

The fair is held at the grounds of the Trinetreshwar Mahadev Temple. The festival and the mela are celebrated together as a ceremony of the wedding of Mahabharata characters Arjun and Draupadi. According to numerous mythological tales, Draupadi swayamvar took place in Tarnetar. This was the location where young Pandav Prince Arjun won Draupadi by piercing the eye of a fish in the pond. The tradition of holding such a swayamvar continues here even today. Unmarried men and women from tribal communities visit the fair looking for a prospective match. According to the customs the men stand under embroidered umbrellas looking for a bride while the women go around with an umbrella looking for a groom. The single women wear red zimi (skirt) and married women wear black zimi. The bachelor men wear colourful dhotis, artistically designed waistcoats and a Pagadi (head-cloth twisted at an angle).

This vibrant mela opens you to the colorful and vibrant Gujarati culture.  Women wearing colorful costumes perform folk dance to music and showing off their glittering jewelry. Rabari women of nearby Zalawad perform the famous circular folk dance called rahado. Nearly two hundred women perform rasadas (a famous traditional dance form) in a single circle, to the beats of four drums at a time and the tunes of jodia pavas (double flutes). You can also enjoy a cattle exhibition in the fair. The villagers also organize Rural Olympics along with bullock cart and horse race. The colorful umbrellas are also one of the main attractions of the fair. Many bhajan mandalis (groups who play religious music) attend the festival to entertain their audiences with their strong voices and special instruments. A large portion of mela covers shopping stalls for tourists. People sell coulorful umbrellas, ethnic jewelry and small statues of deities as well as traditional attires with tiny mirrors embroidered into the clothing.

The fair is attended by more than 50,000 people each year. Kolis, Rabaris, Bharwads, Khants, Kanbis, Kathis, Charans, the Harijans and the Desh-rabaris participate in this fair in huge numbers.

Around the destination

Kutch is 303 km away from Chotila. If you are visiting the fair, I will surely advice you to visit Kutch along.

 

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Festivals of India: Kerala Boat Race

India is a diverse nation. Everyday people are celebrating something in various parts of this huge nation. We know about many religious and cultural festivals but have very basic (in many cases none) knowledge about the art themed fairs & festivals celebrated across the country along with some traditional religious festivals which are pulling many tourists now a days.

This specific Travel series of mine concentrates on the calendar of those festivals which every Indian should proudly attend and enjoy!

boat race 5
The famous snake boat

When?

There are many boat races in Kerala like Nehru Trophy Boat Race, Neerettupuram Boat Race, Rajiv Gandhi Boat Race, Pulimkunnu Boat Race, Karuvatta Boat Race, Haripad Boat Race, Mannar Boat Race etc. that take place in the waters of Kerala each year during August & September. But the Nehru Trophy Boat Race in Alapuzzha is the most famous, biggest and oldest boat racing competition in Kerala. It is the one which you should not miss. It’s also one of its kinds in the world. It’s held on the 2nd Saturday of every August. The race will take place on 12th August in 2017 and on 11th August in 2018.

 

boat race 4
The Trophies

Where & How To Reach?

The boat race takes place on the Punnamada Lake near Alapuzzha. The race courses are 1370 meters in length. From Alapuzzha tourists and locals (who are ticket holders) are taken to the destination by jetty. The last jetty leaves at 11 am.  Tourists are expected to take their seats in the pavilion by 12 noon. The Punnamada Lake jetty point is just 11 minutes away from Alapuzzha city center. The ticket prizes ranges according to the pavilion you choose to sit in. You can book the tickets on book my show, on their website as well as at the venue itself. But it’s always safe to book the tickets in advance if you want good seats. You can carry your own food and water to the race but make sure your bag isn’t too heavy.

Sr. No Categories of Tickets Rate
1 Tourist Gold (Admit 1) Rs. 2500/-
2 Tourist Silver (Admit 1) Rs. 1500/-
3 Rose Corner (Admit 2) Rs. 750/-
4 Rose Corner (Admit 1) Rs. 450/-
5 Victory Line (Admit 1 Rs. 300/-
6 All View (Admit 1) Rs. 230/-
7 Lake View (Admit 1) Rs. 150/-
8 Lawn (Admit 1) Rs. 100/-
Alappuzha to Punnamada
From Alapuzzha to Punnamada Lake
route map
The Destination Map

What Is It?

The Kali-Vallangal i.e. racing boats are a spectacular sport to watch. Around 100s of people row the sleek snake boats through the water in a synchronized manner. Even a little mistake by a single person can be harmful for the whole team. The participants go through riggers sessions of diet and practice for the whole year to win this competition. It was first started when the then prime minister of India, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru visited the area in 1952. He was so impressed by the snake boats that he donated the silver trophy and thus began the racing game. Watching hundreds of oars held by strong boatmen, working with the rhythm of water, the drums and songs is mesmerizing. Every year nearly 2 lakh people attend this event from across the globe. It’s also known as Kerala’s F1 races.

 

Where To Stay & Other Activities

Alapuzzha is famous for it’s backwaters. There are many luxury hotels, home-stays in and around the city. One can also rent a houseboat to stay in. Air BnB offers amazing deals on their app and website for the roof in Alapuzzha. August is the best season to visit the city and enjoy the scenic views.

You can read more about the same on their official website:

http://nehrutrophy.nic.in/pages-en-IN/default.aspx

 

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Festivals of India: Hemis Festival

India is a diverse nation. Everyday people are celebrating something in various parts of this huge nation. We know about many religious and cultural festivals but have very basic (in many cases none) knowledge about the art themed fairs & festivals celebrated across the country along with some traditional religious festivals which are pulling many tourists now a days.

This specific Travel series of mine concentrates on the calendar of those festivals which every Indian should proudly attend and enjoy!

Statue of Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava)
Statue of Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava)

When?

Every year this festival takes place in June or July. The two day celebration takes place on the 10th day of the Tibetan Lunar month. 2017 dates of the festival are 3rd and 4th July. 2018 dates of the festival are 23rd and 24th June. You can visit and stay in the region from May to September as it’s considered as the time of pleasant and sustainable weather.

Where?

Hemis Monastery is in the Ladakh district of Jammu and Kashmir. The largest monastery of Ladakh is just 45 km away from Leh. The official address is ‘Leh, Jammu & Kashmir, 194201’.

There are plenty of luxury hotels, home stays and resorts around the monastery. The monastery itself offers rooms to live for tourists. The festival is attended by locals as well as by tourists around the world. I would suggest you to pre-book a room around monastery to avoid the search for a roof after getting there. There are also many restaurants around the monastery which offer local and other Indian (especially North Indian) food. Even the monastery serves delicious food to its tourists along with traditional Butter Tea.

What is it exactly?

Hemis Monastery is considered as the wealthiest monastery in India. The festival is celebrated on the occasion of the birth of Guru Padmasambhava. Guru Padmasambhava is considered as a representative reincarnate of Buddha. In the festival the Chamms Lamas perform masked dance and sacred plays. The performances are glorified with cymbals, drums and long horns. Lamas dress in colorful brocades and masked attire while they perform the dance. The dance is supposed to be the symbol where of good defeating the evil, in other words Gods defeating the Demons. The dance drama is enhanced with different Mudras used by the dancers during their performances. The performers often use the masks representing different divinities of religious or historical importance.

The main festival activities take place in the rectangular courtyard in front of the main door of the monastery. The space is wide and open. There are two raised square platforms, three feet high with a sacred pole in the center. The raised dais is decorated with richly cushioned seats. There is also a finely painted small Tibetan table with the ceremonial items on it which include – cups full of holy water, uncooked rice, tormas made of dough and butter and incense sticks. The ceremonies begin with an early morning ritual atop the Gompa where, to the beat of drums and the resounding clash of cymbals and the spiritual wail of pipes, the portrait of “Dadmokarpo” or “Rygyalsras Rinpoche” is then ceremoniously put on display for all to admire and worship. It’s amazing to see the local people gathering around in their traditional attire to enjoy the festival.

How to reach?

The easiest way to reach the monastery is by road from Leh. The road is beautiful and scenic. You can book a ride from Leh which is just 50 minutes away from your destination. On regular days monastery is open from 8am to 1pm and 2pm to 6pm. The entry fee is 100Rs. per person.

Hemis 4
The route map from Leh to Hemis Monastery

You can also plan a trek along with your visit to the monastery. There are number of treks you can do when you are in Ladakh. To decide which trek to take and other important details do visit the following site:

https://www.lehladakhindia.com/

 

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Visit Kerala’s Off Beat Destination : Thangassery

When we travel to a place, we always wish to visit an off beat destination rather than a crowded tourist destination. You don’t find these off beat destinations easily, you have to look hard for it. Sometimes these destinations may be a total disappointment or sometimes they will feel like paradise. I found out such a off beat paradise like destination in Kerala.

I had planned a big busy trip to Kerala with my friends. We visited all the famous regular touristy destinations. But I had decided that we will visit an off beat destination, where tourists go  but it’s not always their first choice. I asked internet to help me to find such one place, and the name of Thangassery Beach popped up!

Thangassery beach is located in the Kollam city of Kerala. It’s just 5-6 kms away from main city. It’s easily accessible by road and rail too. Thangassery hosts a huge light house, ruins of an old fort and a fairly crowded beach. The small town has its own ancient history which makes it even more special.

P_20170223_165651_PN
Panoramic View 1

We were living at the Summer House Holiday Home. Its located 3 kms away from the light house. Living at the holiday home felt like being in the heaven. The rates were cheap, rooms were huge and clean, food was testy and the view was BREATHTAKING. it was so amazing that we skipped our plans to visit the light house and fort and spent our time watching the sun set in the sea. We clicks 100s of photos posing on the rock body (which was working as a wall between the cottage and the sea).  Unfortunately we were there only for a day. I wish we could have stayed longer. But I am planning to visit and stay at the holiday home for a long time.

It will be absolutely fine if you miss a houseboat tour or a temple visit in Kerala. But mark my words, you don’t want to visit this awesome place.

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Panoramic View 2

When we entered, we were tired, sticky and singing Bollywood songs:

The moment we got dramatic:

Video courtesy: Durgesh Parmarthi

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What To Buy In Kerala’s Oldest Market?

I had a few things on my shopping list marked as ‘compulsory’ when I started planning my Kerala trip. I was sure that I will get those things in any of Kerala’s markets but like any other person, I wanted the best in quality and quantity. And I got my things with superb quality and local touch at Chalai Market in Trivandrum.

Chalai Market is serving the people in the capital city of Kerala as well as to the tourists from 18th century. It was built by Raja Kesavdas, the then Dewan of Travancore. The market was the central place to supply and segregate commodities and goods coming from around the globe. The market is spread over 2 kilometers with many shops selling the same things. To make your hunt to buy best easy, I am giving a list of shops I found genuine and providing best goods.

The Spice Stop:

Its impossible to anyone leave Kerala without buying any spices. In Chalai market, one can find more than 5 shops selling spices. But the Kannu & Co. spice shop was the one which caught our eye. The shop owners are very helpful and suggest you what to buy exactly. They have more than 50 types of spices, coffee, tea and other food items. The products are shipped from interior Kerala. The smell of the spices tell their quality. Also it’s not too expensive.

Buy the Metal Work:

Want to buy copper and silver statues to decorate your house or for gifting purpose? SKP (S. Kuttalam Pillai) & Sons is your destination. They offer a wide range of Samais’ (traditional lamps), statues of Hindu Gods and Godesses, elephants and other holy animals. They also undertake temple works. The shop is a little bit expensive but worth for it’s quality and options.

Buying the fragrance:

JAs Perfumes store in the heart of Chalai market totally steals your heart. One simply can’t decide which perfume to buy. The have more than 100 scents in the one tiny shop which is always crowded. Don’t back off when you see the crowd on it’s doors, just get in their ask what you want and you will get it. Even if you don’t know which fragrance is yours, the shop owner and the staff will help you to buy the perfect one. I got moon light and jasmine, two of the most soothing fragrances from the store. They also sell chandan face mask, fragrant dhoop and agarbattis, deodorants, air fresheners and bukhoors.

They sell online too. Check out their website:

http://jasperfumes.in/

Picture Courtesy: Durgesh Parmarthi & Tanvi Shaikh

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Where To Buy The Local Snacks (or chakhana) in Kerala?

Each town in Kerala has its own local taste. I always try to find hotels or stores where I can enjoy such local flavors. In my trip to Kerala, I found two such places where the shops were filled with local snacks and I wanted to buy the whole shop.

The AK Bakery in Kayamkulam city is filled with huge bags of snacks and sweets. You can buy more than 10 types of banana wafers, 2 types of jalebi, 3-5 types of badami halwa, achhapam and so many other Kerala delicacies (very difficult to pronounce thus difficult to spell for me) under one roof. The owners of the bakery are very helpful and suggest you the perfect snacks to buy. The bakery is located near Parabrahma Temple, Kayamkulam.

The other store I visited was in Thiruvananthpuram (also known as Trivandrum). The Maha Chips store in the capital city is located near the famous Padmanabham Temple. Suitable to its name, the store is huge. It offers you very different flavors of banana chips like salty, pepper, masala, garlic, chilli etc. They also have jack fruit jam, different types of chakalis, sweets, badami halwa. Each counter has a helper and the person helps you to pack the freshly made delicacies. The store is always over crowded and doesn’t have a parking space near by. So I would suggest you to walk to the store from the temple (the distance is hardly 50mtrs) and take only your wallet when you visit.

Read more about Mah Chips:

http://mahachips.com/

कातळावर बसून अनुभवलेला कायल…

पूर्वेस सूर्य उगवतो आणि पश्चिमेस मावळतो. केरळातील कायल (backwaters) हे पश्चिमेस असल्यामुळे इथे लोक मावळणारा सूर्य बघायला येतात उगवणारा नाही. अगदी तुम्ही पश्चिमेकडे उभं राहून पूर्वेला उगवणार्या सूर्याचे प्रतिबिंब त्या पाण्यात टिपण्याचा प्रयत्न केला, तरी ते तितकेसे सुंदर दिसत नाही. म्हणून अनेकजण कायलवर सूर्यास्त टिपण्यासाठी जातात. पण ज्यांना पश्चिमेस दिसणारी सकाळ किंवा मुख्यत्वे पहाट अनुभवायची आहे त्यांनी  कायलला सूर्योदयापूर्वीच तशी वेळ बघून, गजर लावून जावे.

कायलला जसजसा सूर्य पूर्वेकडे उगवतो, तसतसा आकाश आणि पर्यायाने पाण्याचा रंग देखील बदलतो. राखाडी करडा, मग गर्द निळा, मग मधेच नितळ पांढरा आणि मग हळूहळू निळ्या शाईसारखा रंग होतो. हे रंगांचे खेळ सुरू असतानाच एकीकडे जवळ जवळ शेकडो पक्षी ह्या पाण्यावरुन उडत असतात.

निसर्गाचा हा क्षणाक्षणाला बदलणारा प्रचंड मोठा canvas डोळे भरून बघण्यासाठी कायलवर एखादा दगड पकडायचा आणि त्यावर बसून राहायचे. मी बसले होते तिथून मोठ्या संख्येने कावळे, घारी, बगळे, दह्याळ आणि अजून काही बारीक पक्षी उडून जात होते. पाण्यात लांबवर १-२ होड्या वल्हवत जाणारे स्थानिक कोळी देखील दिसत होते. बगळे आणि कावळे तर अगदी काही फूटांवरुन उडत होते. Tv वर, museums मध्ये किंवा शहरात कचर्याच्या ढीगावर दिसणार्या कावळ्यांपेक्षा इथे दगडांवर स्वच्छंद बागडणार्या कावळ्यांचे सौंदर्य प्रकर्षाने जाणवते.

माझ्या तीन फूटांवरुन उडत जाणाऱ्या एका कावळ्याच्या पंखातले एक पीस गळून पाण्यावर अलगद पडले. ते कापसासारखे हलके राखडी-काळपट पीस शाई सारख्या निळ्याशार पाण्यावर पडल्याने तीन तरंग उमटले.दोन सेकंदात घडलेल्या ह्या घटनेने माझ्या दिवसाची सुरूवात झाली. ते पीस लांब तरंगत जाताना पाहणे हा एक सर्वोत्तम आनंद होता.

त्यामुळे जेव्हा तुम्ही केरळच्या कायलला भेट द्याल तेव्हा निसर्गाने आयोजित केलेला रोज पहाटेचा हा अद्भुत कार्यक्रम बघायला विसरू नका!

Dining With Keralites: Tips and Trivias

Food in Kerala is a bliss. It’s a paradise for vegetarians and non-vegetarians. Suma Chechi (chechi is the Malayalam word for sister) shared some of her daily kitchen secrets and rituals with me as I saw her cooking in amazement.

  • In Kerala people don’t cook Sambar or Rassam everyday. They make different types of curries using a lot of coconut.
  • Chor is the malyali word for rice. They eat the big grain rice compared to northern India. As me and my friends weren’t used to eat the big rice, they had to specialy buy small grained rice for us. The big grained rice is much easier to digest than the smaller rice. 
  • Everyday meal consists of tapioca, rice, various curries (fish curry too if non-vegetarian), aviyal (a vegetable mix) and pickles. They start their meal with tapioca and curry and then take the rice.
  • 99% times black pepper is used to spice up the food instead of red chilli powder. 
  • They don’t put the turmeric powder in the tadka. Instead they put it when the food is half cooked or at the time of putting other ingredients like masalas and vegetables.
  • Each kitchen has a coconut grounder attached to its granite kadappa. Thus it makes the daily coconut grounding job very easy. A family of four uses one whole big coconut daily for food.
Aviyal, Sambar, Curry and a vegetable mix loaded with coconut
Rice, Curry and Aviyal
Kerala Wedding Lunch : Look 1
Kerala Wedding Lunch: Main Course (later they served puranpoli, 2 types of paaysam, rassam and curd milk at the end)
When finished, you’re supposed to close the banana leaf like this as an indicator that you’re done eating.
Suma Chechi

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Being in the God’s Own Country 

I always wanted to explore Kerala to to find out why they call it the God’s Own Country. I started getting answers to my question the minute I entered the lush green state of Kerala.

I was traveling from Mumbai to Kayamkulam (a small town on the backwaters of Alleppi). I was fortunate enough to spend most of my time in Kerala with a bunch of Kerali families in Putupatthy village of Kayamkulam. 

The whole train journey was mesmerizing. We (me and my friends) enjoyed the amazing views through the train windows as we ate everything that IRCTC offered. We saw through the train that most of the houses were coloured in the matt shades of pink, green, purple or yellow. The small houses were not bigger than one storey. In Kerala, you can see small bungalows surrounded by gardens of banana and coconut trees. 

The houses comprise of 2 bedrooms, hall, kitchen and 2 bathrooms (one inside house and one outside). The kitchen kadappas are slightly lower in height as compared to the maharashtrian kitchens I have seen. Each kitchen has a big stone grinder to grind chutteny and masalas. 

Living with Kerali people is not the only bliss of my stay here. I am writing this piece with enormous view of seren backwater body, numerous birds flying over my head with their sweet hummings, crabs walking by my side, huge coconut trees in the back and watching local fishermen catching fish at a distance. The water is touching the rock body I am sitting on, can hear the crackling sounds of pet ducks and chicken from the house I am living in, drums playing from the temple on the other shore. There is full range to our mobile phones, every house has a DTH connection and radio, speed boats and motors are also here. But I can only hear the voices nature is willing to give me. 

Now I understand why they call it God’s Own Country.

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