Pictures: Shiva Temple in the snow-clad Gulmarg where Quran is recited

Gulmarg, the small town in Kashmir, gets garnished in snow with the arrival of winter every year. In between the snow-peaked mountains lies a Shiva temple on top of a hill. Named Rani temple, it is visible from all corners of Gulmarg.

Spotting a Hindu temple in Kashmir is a rare sight as there are hardly any left in the region. The Rani temple is one of the last signs of the Dogra Dynasty and was built by Maharaja Hari Singh in the 20th century. He was the last Maharaja of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir.

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Far view of the Rani Temple in Gulmarg

The temple is named after his wife Maharani Mohini Bai Sisodia since she used to ardently perform prayers over here. She was one of his four wives.

The most incredible feature about the temple is the priest. He is not an ordinary priest. His name is Ghulam Mohammad Sheikh. Yes, the Hindu temple is guarded by a Muslim priest. But that’s not all. The priest daily recites verses from the Gita as well as the Quran. I guess this practice isn’t seen anywhere else. Unfortunately, he wasn’t present when we visited the temple.

Gulmarg-Shiva-templeThe Rani temple is also famous for being featured in the classic Hindi song ‘Jai Jai Shiv Shankar’ from J Om Prakash’s Aap Ki Kasam (1974) and was picturized on Rajesh Khanna and Mumtaz.

The way to the temple is through a long staircase. As Gulmarg lies at a high altitude of 8690 feet, one is bound to become breathless after the climb. But the effort is truly worth for the peaceful atmosphere the temple offers and the breathtaking view of this beautiful snow-clad town.

Gulmarg is known for its iconic Gondola ride that takes you almost as far as the PoK (Pakistan occupied Kashmir) at a height of close to 13000 feet at Mount Apharwat Summit. It is a place that is worth innumerable words.

Pictures and article: Keyur Seta

More pictures from the temple and Mt Apharwat:

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View from the Rani temple
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View from the Rani temple

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Shiva temple-Gulmarg

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Mount Apharwat
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Gondola ride to Mount Apharwat

 

 

 

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Photos: Huge Shiva statue at Nageshwar Mahadev temple in Dwarka

Dwarka is famous for being the holy place of lord Krishna. The Dwarkadhish and Bet Dwarka temples are the ones that are thronged the most by Krishna devotees. But during our recent trip to the place, we realized that the Nageshwar Mahadev temple or Nageshwar Jyotirling temple also holds a lot of significance in the town of Gujarat.

When our driver-cum-guide told us that he is taking us to a temple of Lord Shiva which is some distance away from the town, we were interested but not excited. However, even when we were some distance away from the destination, excitement suddenly crept up.

Also read: Mercure Dwarka Review: Serene hub in the land of Lord Krishna

Nageshwar-Jyotirling-DwarkaIt was the huge statue of lord Shiva or Shankar that appeared fascinating as we approached the place. As expected, we were in complete awe of the mammoth piece of art work as we finally reached the place.

The huge white coloured Shiva statue stood as an astounding figure commanding respect. The rudraksh necklace around His neck and fingers, tiger skin costume and the presence of the snake, damru and trishul along with the calm facial expression made it appear like a real person.

The sight almost made me forget that the main temple was actually inside. Like what you expect from a place of worship, the atmosphere inside the Nageshwar Jyotirling temple provides peace and serenity. We were easily able to do darshan of the main Shivalinga as there was hardly any crowd (they don’t allow pictures). The compound also has an artistic little Shiva-Parvati temple.

A large photo frame of the late music mogul Gulshan Kumar is also hung inside the temple. We assumed that he must have done a hefty donation to the temple trust.

Like every well-known temple, there is a legend about this place too. The Shiva Purana says that Nageshwar Jyotirlinga is in the Darukavana, which means forest. According to the legend, a Shiva devotee named Supriya was attacked by the demon Daaruka. After chanting Shiva’s name, Supriya was saved by Him, who resided there in the form of a Shivalinga.

By: Keyur Seta

More pictures from the Nageshwar Mahadev or Jyotirlinga Temple in Dwarka:

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The entrance

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Nageshwar Jyotirling Dwarka

Nageshwar Jyotirling-Dwarka

Nageshwar Mahadev Dwarka

Bet Dwarka: The island where Lord Krishna resided (See photos)

The Dwarkadhish temple is considered the main attraction in Dwarka. But I personally beg to differ. For me, Bet Dwarka (‘bet’ translates to ‘island’) is the most important place of Krishna worship. You will get to know the reason as you read.

Bet Dwarka is an island situated some distance away from the main Dwarka town, which is called Krishnanagari or the land of Krishna. You are required to travel from Dwarka to Okha by road for about an hour. Once you reach Okha, you need to take a ferry to Bet Dwarka island. The ferry ride is around 15 minutes long.

It is a pleasant experience to travel through the sea to the island. We were worried about the heat just before boarding the ferry. But we didn’t think about the weather once the ferry took off. The beautiful waters and the sight of the island (as you reach near) will make you forget the high levels of heat.

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Bet Dwarka shore

The ticket costs Rs 20 (as per September 2017). The seat inside the cabin of the ferry operator costs Rs 50. However, only locals are allowed to travel in the shade for reasons best known to them. But that’s not all. The ticket conductor refused to charge passengers who hailed from his village. Nobody knows how he recognizes people from his native.

It seems you can also get away from buying a ticket if you are related to some influential people. For example, during our return trip, when the ticket conductor arrived to give tickets, two men sitting next to me said with authority (in Gujarati), “We are Nareshbhai Joshi’s sons.” This was enough to allow them free travel. A Google search didn’t help in knowing who this man is.

Once you reach bet Dwarka, you realize that it isn’t a small island with not too many structures. It is like a proper village, very much like the main Dwarka city. There are plenty of shops selling whole lot of items, just like the vicinity outside the Dwarkadhish temple. Food and beverages stalls are also found in large numbers.

A number of such stalls lead to the main Bet Dwarka temple (cameras are strictly not allowed inside). This place is considered the residence of Lord Krishna once.

This is the reason why I consider Bet Dwarka as the most important site in Dwarka. The Dwarkadhish temple was built by Krishna’s grandson Vajranabha in His memory whereas Bet Dwarka is where Krishna actually stayed.

Coming back to the Bet Dwarka temple, once you enter, you are asked to gather at a place where a learned priest narrates the history of this place. He said that the room where we had gathered was the one where Krishna met his childhood friend Sudama after years (another reason why it’s important to me).

The custom was to never visit someone empty handed. As per the legend, Sudama gave Krishna some quantity of beaten rice as that was the only thing he could afford. In remembrance of the incident, devotees are given a fistful of beaten rice as prashaad. But instead of eating it directly, you are supposed to mix it with the stock of rice at your home.

You can also get a normal sweet prashaad.

By: Keyur Seta

More pictures:

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The entrance to the temple

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Krishna’s Dwarkadhish temple to Sudama Setu: Pictorial tour of Dwarka

After becoming a Krishna devotee since last few years, I, obviously, developed a keen interest to visit Dwarka. It so happened that just recently I told my parents about my wish to visit the holy place at least once. And just one or two days later, I get a mail informing that I, along with few other bloggers, was selected for a trip to Dwarka. Was this a mere co-incidence?

The trip was a part of a bloggers’ review program for Mercure Dwarka hotel, which was inaugurated in the town of Gujarat in August this year. We landed at Porbandar airport and reached Dwarka in a drive of around 90 minutes. The place can also be reached from Jamnagar airport in little over two hours.

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Sunset captured from Sudama Setu in Dwarka

Dwarka is located at the western end of Gujarat on the shore of Arabian Sea. It is one of the Chaar Dhams (four major holy places) along with Jagannath Puri, Rameswaram and Badrinath.

Also read: Mercure Dwarka Review: Serene hub in the land of Lord Krishna

Dwarka has been built and rebuilt seven times in history. It was said to be built first few thousand years ago by Lord Krishna when he migrated from Mathura with his followers. The aim behind the migration was the safety of the villagers from the evil ruler and Krishna’s staunch enemy, Jarasandha.

The city built in the ancient period got submerged into the sea after the fall of the Yadavas (villagers) and the passing away of Krishna and his brother Balrama. They are said to have succumbed to the curse of Gandhari but not before Krishna had finished his aim of taking birth on the earth.

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Cows roaming on the roads of Dwarka

Our driver enlightened us that since the modern times, Dwarka has more tourists than locals. Its population is only aroun 38000. He also said that the city lies only in 3 by 3 kilometers land. As our trip progressed, we did realize this as we found proper civilization only around the Dwarkadhish and Bet Dwarka (situated in an island nearby) temples. But one can find huge number of cows on the roads in and around Dwarka.

Places to visit:

Dwarkadhish Temple

This is the biggest attraction as this is considered the main Krishna temple. Dwarkadhish is another name for Krishna. The temple is also called Jagat Mandir. Archeological studies suggest the temple to be around 2000-2200 years old. It is said to have built by Krishna’s great grandson Vajranabha. The temple has been destroyed twice by Mughal rulers Mohammad Shah and later by Mahmud Begada and rebuilt on both occasions.

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Dwarkadhish  Temple

It has a beautiful dome along with a vibrant dhwaj (flag). Unfortunately, cameras or any sort of gadgets are strictly not allowed inside. One has to deposit them at the entrance. The entrance leads up to the main area where the idol of Krishna resides. The idol is veiled during different times of the day. Witnessing the reaction of the people when it is unveiled is quite an experience.

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Krishna is also called Shrinathji in Gujarat. Shrinathji’s idol is given black colour and has peculiar turban and other attires. This form of Krishna is seen in the Dwarkadhish Temple. The idol is adorned with jewels and royal clothing. The vicinity also has other pretty and peace-inducing temples that are surely worth visiting. They offer Prasad (offering) in the form of puris we use in Sev Puris. The only difference is that it tastes sweet.

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Outside the temple

 

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A shop opposite the temple

The main market area lies around the temple. One can find shops selling sweets, snacks, different type of idols, conch shells (shankh), clothes, etc. One sweet item that I would highly recommend is Sata. After looking at it, I wasn’t expecting it to taste so lovely.

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Sata

 

Sudama Setu

Just a stone throw away from Dwarkadhish temple is Sudama Setu (Sudama’s bridge), which lies over the Gomti river. Sudama was Krishna’s closest friend. It offers a beautiful, panoramic view of the city and the river (see the 1st image of the article). And if you happen to witness the sunset, you would be amazed with the breathtaking visuals.

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Sudama Setu

Sudama Setu connects the market to an area exactly the opposite. Once here, you would feel as if you suddenly landed in Rajasthan. It is a desert-like area where camels are seen loitering. Don’t forget to sit on the benches on this side to feast your eyes on the flowing Gomti along with the side view of Dwarkadhish temple.

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Laxminarayan Temple

This area also has an old, mysterious Laxminarayan temple that offered a serene feeling. I also found a small Hanuman temple, behind which lay idols of other Gods for unknown reasons.

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Other side of the bridge
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Dwarkadhish temple from the other side of Sudama Setu
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The desert like area on the other side of Sudama Setu.

Rukmini Temple

Legend has it that Krishna and his wife Rukmini were taking sage Durvasa to their place in Dwarka in a chariot pulled by them. During one point, Rukmini felt thirsty, so Krishna dug his toe in the ground and water flowed out of it. She quenched her thirst but Durvasa felt insulted since they didn’t offer him water. He cursed that Krishna will have to stay away from Rukmini and that the water of Dwarka will always taste salty, which is still the case.

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Rukmini Tenple
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Entrance of the Rukmini Temple

His curse is also the reason why the temples of Krishna and Rukmini are separate. The Rukmini Temple is a pretty work of art which is seen on the human sculptures on its dome and other areas. Like the Dwarkadhish Temple, the dome of this one also deserves mention. As Dwarka only gets salty water, there is a tradition of donating normal water on your behalf if you feel so.

By: Keyur Seta

Banganga Photos – II

I had done a Banganga tank picture post last year (see it HERE). But the place is such that a single post on it isn’t enough. So here I was again today. Just like last year, I chose monsoons as the time to visit here. The place is super pleasant at this time of the year.

Luckily enough, in my hour long visit, I experienced both extreme sunlight as well as heavy rains. When I landed there, I was a bit disappointed to see the sun out and the atmosphere turning very humid. Nevertheless, the place still provided with peace.

Banganga

Thankfully though, it started raining soon. The falling of heavy drops of rains on the water body appeared like nature’s way of creating special effects.

Banganga is an ancient tank situated in the Walkeshwar locality of Mumbai. History says that the tank was built in 1127 AD by Lakshman Prabhu, who was a minister in the court of the Silhara dynasty in Thane.

But legend has that water sprang up when Lord Rama, who was in search of his kidnapped wife Sita, shot an arrow at a place where the tank stands. Banganga was rebuilt in 1715 AD when Rama Kamath, a renowned businessman and philanthropist, gave a donation.

The only negative point I found here was with regards to cleanliness. The steps used by visitors for sitting need to be clean regularly.

By: Keyur Seta

More pictures from Banganga tank:

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Banganga Mumbai

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Alandi: Photo tour of the village where Sant Dnyaneshwar and Jalaram Bapa reside

Alandi is a small village situated around 27 kilometers from Pune and around 147 kilometers from Mumbai.

When a person generally thinks about India, he or she ends up thinking about Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Chennai, etc. But we tend to forget that a large portion of India stays in villages. As the saying in Hindi goes, ‘Bharat gaon mein basa hai (India lies in the villages).’

Therefore, there are countless little villages in the country, which are unknown even to those who have been staying in India since more than 50 years. These places never come in the mainstream. Alandi is one among the thousands of such small villages in India.

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River Indrayani at Alandi. 

It falls on the banks of river Indrayani, which is a pleasant sight when in full flow. It’s dry during summers for obvious reasons.

Alandi is mostly known for being the Samadhi of Sant Dnyaneshwar. Also known as Dnyandev or Mauli, he was a poet, saint and philosopher who was born in Apegaon in 1275 and passed away in 1296 in Alandi. It is believed that he went into Samadhi after writing a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita. His Samadhi is visited by a large number of his followers who belong to the Varkari sect.

A sacred temple of Jalaram Bapa is also situated in Alandi, which is also famous among his devotees. Jalaram Bapa was also a saint, who is highly regarded by his followers, mostly from Gujarat. He was born on November 14, 1799 in Virpur and passed away on February 23, 1881. A temple in his honour is built in his hometown Virpur. An exact replica of it was built in Alandi in 1960s.

There are chances that you would find Alandi peaceful, more so if you have always been a city-dweller like me. The best time to visit here is winter. The roadside food over here is very tasty, especially Misal and Vada Pav.

Since last decade or so, a lot of buildings and hotels have cropped up in the village and around. But the village-like feel still remains.

By: Keyur Seta

Here are some more pictures of Alandi (The first picture above is clicked during the winter of 2011. Others during summer of 2017):

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Sant Dnyaneshwar
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Jalaram Bapa
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Lord Vishnu with his 10 avatars inside the premises of Jalaram temple.

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Group of Varkari singers performing inside the premises of Jalaram temple.

Difficult to say if Mcleodganj is more peaceful or Tibetans: See photos

Our trip to Mcleodganj was a part of our November tour which also included Amritsar and Dalhousie. Although I had a memorable time in the other two places, the feeling after entering Mcleodganj was unexplainable. It was like suddenly switching over to a TV channel hugely different from what you have been watching since long.

mcleodganj-monks-monasterySuddenly I was surrounded with the most serene atmosphere I have ever experienced. The Himalayas provided the enchanting visuals of nature. The buildings and architecture in the town oozed not only colours but also calmness.

But the most pleasant sight was the presence of Tibetans in the entire town, especially the monks. It’s a sheer pleasure to talk to them. They appear unreal for their peaceful demeanor they carry. In fact, just to see them go about their daily, everyday routine calms you like nothing else can.

Mcleodganj has two monasteries. The main one is also a place of residence of the great Dalai Lama. It is quite an experience to be there. But it is the other one in the market area that is easily more beautiful and vibrant.

The Tibetans have been living in India as refugees ever since China occupied Tibet in the 1950s. They still have a glimmer of hope of returning to their homeland, although the chances are very bleak.

But, more importantly, after seeing the way they have nurtured Mcleodganj like their own baby, will Indians like me be happy if and when they return?

Needless to say, after such an experience I would love to visit next time and stay for a much longer duration.

P.S:– I was pleasantly surprised to not see a single political banner or poster in the entire town. Later on, I realized that Tibetans have no voting rights as they are refugees. That explains it all.

By Keyur Seta

More pictures from Mcleodganj:

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