Thursday, November 10, 2011

Nathdwara (Shrinathji) - Mecca to Vaishnavs

Nathdwara - literally means door to Shrinathji.

Located approx 50 kms from Udaipur (Rajasthan). Its a small town on banks of Banas river in Aravali mountains which is home to 14th century idol of 7year infant incarnation of Krishna called "SHRINATHJI".  Shrinathji symbolizes form of Krishna when he lifted Govardhan hills with left hand raised and right hand made into a fist resting on the waist with large diamond beneath the lips.

Appearance of Shrinathji : As the story goes. A cow called "Ghumar" would daily climb the sacred "Govardhan" hill 14 miles from Mathura and perform "Dudh Abhishek" to hand coming out of the mountain. The owner once followed the cow to understand the reason why the cow would not provide enough milk to him. This was the first appearance of Shree Krishna in his new form. This idol was worshipped in Vrindavan for 3 centuries. The idol of Shreenathji was moved from Vrindavan in Mathura to protect from anti- Hindu barbarian destruction of Mogul ruler Aurangzeb in 17th century. On the way to Mewar from Govardhan, the wheel of the chariot carrying the idol of Nathji got stuck in the village called Sinhad where the temple was built for Shrinathji and the village is today called as Nathdwara.

The descendants of the Brijwasi who followed the chariot from Mathura still live in Nathdwara. And the original chariot which carried the idol of Nathji from Mathura is still preserved in the temple complex in Nathdwara.

Tilkayat Parampara and its lineage: In this tradition the Vallabh dynasty of Shree Vallabhacharya has been designated as Supreme devine Agni dynasty. Shri Vallabhacharya (one of the five main Acharyas of Hindu Religion) was born to Brahmin family originally from Andhra pradesh in place called Champaranya in M.P at the same time when Shree Krishna appeared on Govardhan hills in Mathura. During his pilgrimage across India, Shreenathji appeared in front of him to reestablish Pushti marg and propogate the pushti kind of devotion. The present Tilkayat of Vallabh Sampradaya - Shri Rakeshji is the seventeenth descendent of the dyanasty. The family is responsible for all rituals and care taking of Shreenathji temple till date.

The Haveli of Shrinathji: The temple complex also called Haveli is a palace. Its called Haveli because like traditional household, it has store rooms for milk (doodhgarh). store room for beetlenuts, store room for flowers, jewellary room, Mishrigarh to store sugar, 4 wells to store ghee, a rasoigarh. The access to certain places are restricted to only selected sewaks to maintain the purity (shuddhi).
It comes alive at dawn at 5am when the first darshan called Mangala is done and is full of hustle, bustle throughout the day with 7- 8 different darshans happening during the day which has its own significance.Each darshan is for 20-30 minutes and then the doors of the temple will be closed.The Haveli is in fill glory during Janmashtami, Holi and Diwali festivals with rituals and festivals performed as it was done centuries ago.

My visit: I boarded the Nathdwara bus from Borivali around 8pm on Saturday. The journey which passes through 3 states,  Maharashtra, Gujarat and concludes in Rajasthan. I got the sleeper seat on upper deck and was quite happy at the thought of spending the night peacefully sleeping in the A/C bus, not knowing that by the time I got down at Nathdwara after 18hours journey, I could barely stand properly for journey was hell of a bumpy ride causing vertigo problems to me and am sure would have caused some serious disorders  from spine dislocation if it had continued for some more time.

Having checked in afternoon in Hotel Gokul Niwas very close to the temple complex, first thing was to have a full meal as next darshan was in late afternoon around 5pm for 30minutes and last one was at 7pm. Nathdwara is famous for its bhojnalay's. Unlimited 12 course meal from Rs 60/- to Rs 125/-
After lunch and quick nap, it was time for Darshan. Here in Nathdwara, the Darshan is little different as compared to other temples as there are 7-8 darshans in a day with idol dressed differently each time which has its own significance. People had already started gathering for the darshan when I reached the temple and as soon as the doors are open, people run to get the first glimpse of the Shrinathji. There are different queues for ladies and gents. Each darshan would last around 30minutes after which the doors are closed for next darshan and idol of Shrinathji gets a new look.
The first glimpse of Shrinathji idol is so mesmerising that devotees and even I have got drop of tear in the eyes attimes. The atmosphere is so electric, so positive, so vibrant.
There are eight darshans in a day, each time the idol is dressed differently and no dress is ever repeated. They say that if the ornaments or vastra is pushed three times by the idol then another pair is kept ready for him. No one is allowed to watch when Shreeji shringar is changed or when Bhog is offered to the idol, Its done by Tilkayat or Mukhyiyaji of the temple. The tradition of making various food offerings in the kitchen, malas which are made from flowers especially grown in nursery around the temple complex and team of tailors preparing vastra of Shrinathji has remained the same as it was done 500 years ago. The last darshan of "Shayan" only happens for six months in Nathdwara and during winters the "Shayan" is done in Vrindavan temple and then it comes back to Nathdwara after six months. I was lucky to get the last darshan of Shayan which will only happen after 6months now.

After the last darshan, its time to roam around in the markets outside the temple, its a small village type atmosphere with small lanes so no car is allowed near the temple complex. The markets are full of stalls selling food items, the famous being the Kand (Suran /Yam) cut in pieces and deep fried, sprinkled with lemon juice and special masala.
Preparing for the Left shake & Right Shake

Left Shake

Right Shake
The other famous item is hot dry fruit sprinkled saffron milk and cannabis (bhang) thandai. Milk is available so abundantly in Nathdwara that glass full of dry fruit milk or thandai would only cost Rs 20/-. My evening was spent hogging on the foods from the stalls and couple of glasses of thandai. My day ended at 8pm for I was too tired from my journey and also I had to get up early for first darshan at 5am.

Next day morning, I was up at 4.30am and after getting fresh, I was again in queue for the first darshan of Shrinathji. At 5am in the morning, the shops are all open and temple is full of devotees.

The opening of temple in the morning is announced by sound of Shankh, tradition followed again for centuries announcing the villagers that its time for the darshan.

After the darshan, It was time for the mint + ginger tea. The taste of the tea here is unique as its made on sigdi with lots of ginger and mint leaves. People flock to the tea stall after the first darshan for hot cup of tea which is served not in cups but "Kullads or small clay pots". They say that first darshan is to be done empty stomach so breakfast and tea is only after the first darshan. The atmosphere at 5am in the morning is something that cannot be described but needs to be experienced first hand.
The breakfast is usually poha or gujju Khaman dhoklas and tea, The best part is having them so early in the morning. I could only satisfy myself with couple of plates.

With nothing much to do after my breakfast and first darshan, I decided to get another quick nap before the doors of the temple are open for second darshan which usually happens at 7am. In all there are 4 darshans by mid noon and then 3 in afternoon and evening. I had a tour of 4days and I did all the darshans during my visit.

Nathdwara town is also famous for its pichwai paintings which is done on cloth depicting various moods and shringar of Shrinathji. The artist use different stones and real gold paints to paint.
I have been in interior passage of the town and it would be extremely easy to get lost. The town always gives me strong vibrations gripping me with excitement and extremely nostalgic. Its very very mystic, the entire passage, the people and the aura of the town.

On my journey back home, I decided to travel through Neeta travels as buses are double axle which makes the journey less bumpy and more comfortable even though it cost little more than other bus operators. But remember its better to spend couple of hundred rupees more as compared to getting some disorders caused by spine dislocation due to bumpy bus rides. Lol

As my tour also included a visit to Eklinji temple close to Nathdwara and visit to my kuldevi at Nadol which is 3 hours bus journey in heart of Rajasthan which will be described in my 3part series of Rajasthan tour.

How to Visit Nathdwara: There are bus service available from Mumbai which takes you straight to Nathdwara. Second option is to take train Mumbai - Udaipur which is 3days in week and from Udaipur, you can take bus which are available every 15minutes to Nathdwara. The distance between Udaipur - Nathdwara is approx 50kms.

Other places of Attractions around Nathdwara:

Govardhan parvat as seen from Nathdwara

Parikrama wall being contructed around the parvat

  •  LalBaugh Gardens
  • Ganesh Tekri which is a Ganesh temple on a hill.
  • Gaushala where hundreds of cows are herded and they say there is still a cow from the linage from the times of Shree Krishna.
  • The hill surrounding Nathdwara also called Govardhan Parvat. 
  • Kakroli which is 50kms from Nathdwara is also important pilgrimage center for Vaishnavs.


Last green patch of Rajasthan after which its all desert

Aravali Mountain Range

Aravali Mountain Range 

Common site in Rajasthan

3 volunteers making the soil more fertile !!!!

Pilgrimage center on the way

This ride is more than roller coaster ride

Monday, September 26, 2011

Culturely diverse hidden gems of Mumbai - Temple tour

In this post I plan to present some unique, hidden temple gems in Mumbai, These places are not very architectural delight but holds its own significance and has been part of interesting history of Mumbai, which has got noticed by few but largely play a silent but important role in adding flavor to cultural diversity of city of Mumbai. I plan to cover few unique and hidden temples of Mumbai which I have recently visited, places which have been silently playing spectacular role in enhancing and preserving cultural diversity of the city.

Nipponzan Mydhoji Temple : The name doesnt sound Indian at all but the place has been very much a part of Mumbai. Tucked on the road to worli sea face from worli naka, lies a quaint Japanese Buddhist temple.

Built somewhere in 50's on the land donated by the Birlas and looked after by the followers of Nichiren sect of Japanese Buddhism. This small but spacious temple walls are lined with paintings of life of Buddha. The atmosphere here is rather tranquil and peaceful in the temple with regular prayer sessions conducted in the morning and evening, During these sessions chantings of mantra to achieve enlightment "Nam Myoho renge kyo" is followed with slow and rythmic drum beats. The divine ambience with slow and rythmic drum beats with mesmerising chanting of the mantra by devotees in the temple in the morning and evening relaxes your senses. 

When I stepped in the temple during evening prayers, It hardly had the presence of 3-4 people with one person lighting candles and other beating the drums and everyone chanting the mantra. I was amazed to see the paintings on the walls and some artifacts of Buddha. The place really had a divine ambience.  I was invited to enter small room which housed the statue of Buddha in white marble and some other religious artifacts of Buddhist religion lined on the walls.

Capturing the temple in my lens, I sat for some time experiencing the unique feeling as I heard the drumbeats and chants of few devotees.I bid adieu to the place hoping to step in whenever I am in Worli to experience the positive and amazing divine ambiance.

Kwan Tai Shek Chinese Temple :  Mumbai also has one hidden Chinese temple built almost 80 years ago by Chinese traders, sailors and migrants from China. Worshipped once by only Chinese settlement in Mumbai before most of families got migrated across the globe. And remaining few have got gelled in the air of Mumbai becoming a Mumbaite with their 4th generation in existence.On my way to the temple, from Dockyard station behind Mazgoan docks, I asked one local for direction only to be informed that there was no such Chinese temple in the vicinity but I had all the information from "Google baba" so I moved ahead only to find the temple tucked in peaceful locality in BPT colony at Nawab tank road. Its two story building painted in pink and hardly looks like a temple unless you walk in the building.

 The temple from inside painted in red is a peaceful place with Chinese meditative music played with burning incense sticks creating a serene atmosphere. Adorned with paraphernalia typical of Chinese temples, latterns hanging on the wall in red and yellow. The walls of the temple is adorned with pictures of other Chinese deities.
The main shrine of Kwan Shek is beautifully decorated with silk takes center stage. A large bell and a drum used to welcome the New Year sits in one corner waiting to announce the new year as it arrives on Jan 23rd 2012.
 The temple also has amazing carpet of shape of Tiger which is also a Chinese new year animal sign. When looked from top, it gives a 3 dimensional effect.

For believers, this temple is the answer to lots of questions, literally. The wall next to the shrine is lined with bamboo sheets that tell the fortune, if you know how to read it. There is also a pair of the Chinese mystical Yin and Yang, the forces of the universe. You ask a question and throw them to the floor. If they fall with the opposite sides up, it means the forces are with you

I happened to meet the caretaker of the temple Albert Tham who is 3rd generation Chinese and speaks fluent Hindi. His mother was also the caretaker of the temple.The temple rarely has visitors but in Chinese new year which falls in January and Febuary it comes to full glory with descendants of Chinese community who come here to worship and pay homage. Albert is building another temple on the ground floor which is dedicated to female deity revered for peace, mercy and wisdom "GUAN YIN".

Kwan Tai Shek is a serenely beautiful temple, and a great place to simply sit and meditate in silence. It’s one of those places in Mumbai that is rarely spoken about, but is a gem for a must visit. The temple is definitely a treasure trove of Chinese spirituality in Mumbai.I plan to visit the temple again in Chinese new year in last week of January hoping to capture the atmosphere and the temple in its full glory.

We have so many religion in India and Mumbai is melting pot of all the religions. But the above examples prove that Mumbai is also a place where religion from far away land have also been part of cultural and religious diversity.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

My weekend stress buster places - My city My Mumbai

Travelling is great stress buster and reenergiser for me. It's like polishing myself with "Colin" to remove the dust of boredom and stress of daily routine. I have written about my trips to different location and hopefully will continue to write till the time my passion for travelling, exploring new places or same old places doesn't fade.

Here in this post, I plan to describe Mumbai and some places in Mumbai which I love to visit, which have always been my stress buster places on weekends when I am at home getting bored and have no plans what so ever.

 Marine drive: The Queens necklace as it is called and the 3KM long promenade is one place which I have frequented since my days in college and I still visit when in town. Walk all the way from chowpatty to NCPA building is amazing especially during the evening. Cool breeze blowing from the sea with noise from the waves hitting the shore creates a kind of rhythmic sound which gives quite a amazing feeling when sitting on the promenade wall in the late evening when there is less noise from traffic. I just love to sit here especially at the far end on the rocks opp NCPA building when I am in town before catching the train home. Not to forget the amazing Italian restaurant "Not just jazz by the bay" and the famous Warden's sandwich ice cream which I have relished since my college days.

Colaba :The southern most tip of Mumbai is the heritage belt for being the part of main city of Presidential Bombay. Colaba causeway walk is something frequented by tourist and locals alike. I like walking on the causeway watching what shops have to offer. Also two Irani restaurants come bar which is frequented by tourists and locals are also my favorites Leopold Cafe which was also part of the Mumbai terrorist attack and Cafe Mondegar a.k.a Mondy's sipping beer on antique chairs, listening to music or just sit and relax. Being a tourist spot in Mumbai, it host quite few hotels and restaurants. Woodsideinn, Foodinn, Delhi darbar for its famous Moghlai cuisine. Also one other reason I like coming here is of course Gateway of India, which is quite a sight in the evening especially on weekends. If you happen to come early in the morning at Gateway of India, its quite a  sight with small, big and rich yatch's parked at the bay. In the evenings after a beer or two at Mondy's or Leopold, food at BadeMiya is worth a million. Though veg options are few as compared to Non veg options but every dish here is worth a try. Kalaghoda festival which happens every year at Colaba is one festival of creative minds and artist, for the best brains in art converge here to showcase their art during this mela.

Priyadarshini park: One of the most beautiful park in Mumbai is one place which I have visited again since my college days. Its a best place when you are feeling low or depressed. Close to Arabian sea and in one of the most plush localities of Malabar hills. The sunset view from this park is best as compared to anywhere in Mumbai. Park is so well maintained and location close to the sea. Its comes in full glory on weekends and in evenings.
On my way back home, I make it a point to stop at Shree krishna restaurant close to Grant road station  which is the best South Indian restaurant in South Mumbai.

ISKCON Temple Juhu: First home to lord Krishna in Mumbai as now we have other two sites coming up in Kharghar and Mira Road. One of the most beautiful temples in Mumbai, One of the few temples I love to visit. The other reason is the GOVINDAS the restaurant with mouth watering veg food which is one sure thing not to be missed when at Iskcon. After puja and pet puja at Govindas, if time permits, sitting idle on the less crowded portion of Juhu beach next to Holiday Inn is enchanting. Juhu beach is also one of the few places in my Winter walkathon list, I normally start at 7am in the morning from Scruz Koliwada to Versova and back is worth a walk especially in winters.

ISKCON temple at Kharghar is quite a distance especially from Borivali. But the temple still under construction is uniquely located, Opposite the first golf course coming up in Navi Mumbai. Close to Cidco Central park. In rainy season the place becomes picturesque location of lush green mountains and waterfalls.

BEST bus ride: I especially want to mention this bus ride, its a normal BEST bus ride but at different place all together, away from hustle and bustle of the city on Gorai Island. The first time when I tried it, I was so moved by the journey that I have done it quite a few times now. Starting point for me is bus stop at Gorai Island just after reaching the island by ferry from Borivali mainland. Bus takes you to Uttan village in Bhayender passing through only road with Mango orchards and forest area with quite few bunglows and sleepy fishery villages. Uttan village also has some of the last remaining virgin beaches in Mumbai only used by fishermen but no so frequented by visitors. On the way back, I take the bus all the way to Marve in Malad and then catch a ferry to Malad Marve road and then bus or rick home. The bus ride passes through some small villages of fisherman giving a insight into how Bombay would have looked 60-70 or 100 years back when it was still a group of small seven islands.Its good that Gorai has not seen high rise and is still untouched by urbanisation.

Powai lake Promenade: Powai lake built in 1891 is an artificial lake which was built to supply water to city of Bombay. Situated in affluent Mumbai suburb of Powai. The lake water now unfit for drinking provides soothing and much needed escape from hustle bustle life of a Mumbaikar.
The recently built and renovated walkway on the banks of the lake is one of the best gateways for ideal evening walk or just to sit on the banks and enjoy nature. The lake and its surrounding are natural habitat for some exotic birds which is rarely seen in urban concrete jungles of Mumbai. There are also sightings of crocs in the lake as well. Here are some of the pics from my clicks from one of my visit. Njoy !!!!!!!!!!!!

Mumbai city is also know as foodie's paradise with every corner of city having its own Khau galli or some food street and some famous restaurants with its unique taste and food. I being a foodie, love to adventure in this so called Khau galli's or eateries of Mumbai to enjoy the food and its unique taste. Some of my favorites I could remember are listed here. Some that's missed here will surely make it in some of my other blogs for my adventures would never end !!!!!!!!

Zaveri Bazaar: Name Khau galli is synonymous with khau galli here. The famous jalebis, kichhya papads have been hogged by people here for generations. Its a must visit when I am in Bhuleshwar especially Bhel puri wala near Kalbadevi road and also BHAGAT Tarachand for some amazing north Indian and Sindhi food.

Flora Fountain (Churchgate) :- One unique and famous stall here is the vada pav stall opp the famous monument. I have eaten vada pav from here ever since I was in college and during my days in Stock markets, Its taste has remained the same as people say since it started in early 80's !!!!

Bombay central station: Come Bombay central and one cannot forget Pav bhaji from Sardar's. Place has wait time for one hour especially on weekends. I have been again regular here for some amazing, finger licking, butter pav bhaji for long time. The eatery uses 500kg butter on a single day on weekends on only pavbhaji !!!!!!!!

Dadar east: Tucked in the by lanes of busy dadar is the my favorite restaurant Pritam da Dhaba. My softcorner for punjabi food and the best punjabi food served here has made me a patron of this place.  I cannot describe the taste of the food here on the blog, it can only be experienced by making a visit !

Matunga / King Circle / Sion:  The place being a home for families of early south Indian migrants in Mumbai. Has some of the best Udipi restaurants like Madras cafe, Ramakrishna nayak, Cafe Mysore. Liked by celebreties and locals, the South Indian dishes here cannot be compared to anywhere in Mumbai. I make it a point to go empty stomach when ever I have plans to be in this area so can relish and fill my tummy upto the brim. The food is value for money and worth the burrp !!!!!

Vileparle west: - Walkable distance from the station, lies khau galli of parle, Bajaj road with sandwich walla, dosa walla and what not. But the grilled sandwich here is so hugh that one is more than a full dinner. Dosa stall next to it is something that I have visited for last 20 years and the taste is still the same. 30 different varities of dosas is worth a try. My all time favorite Kerala Masala !!!!!

Oshiwara Andheri -  Kareems - The boutique restaurant famous for its Moghlai non veg and veg cuisine is one that I visit especially on weekends. I have liking for Veg or Egg biryani and Kareems is one place for it. Apart from Kareems, Zaffarbhai at Marine drive and BBC at Orlem or Borivali is other locations for awesome mouth watering Biryanis which I have visited on my foodie adventure trips.

Andheri station west - Just outside the station, stands a stall which starts at 11.00pm to 6.00am in the morning serving amazing pav bhaji and egg bhurjee I have ever tasted in Mumbai. I developed the taste for the food here once after one of my late night parties and since then have been regular to just try the egg bhurjee late in the night. The taste really gets enchanced if you are eating in rickshaw or on the bonnet of your car.

Borivali west :- 10minutes walk from station at Ganjawala circle is the Raju's chinese kiosk. The chinese food here is so mouth watering that people wait for order even at midnight.
again at Borivali station, Bun maska jam and tea just outside the station from midnight to 7am in the morning is just worth trying, I still remember that it was my daily breakfast at 4.00am when I was doing American shift and would be home in wee hours of morning,

I am sure I have missed quite a lot of places that I have visited and like visiting either to rejuvenate myself or to pacify my taste buds on my foodie adventure trips. But the places would get mention somewhere in my coming blogs
Cheers !!