Temples Of The Lonar Crater

Lonar Temples

Almost slipping down the steep path to the lake, we saw the first of the 10 temples inside the Lonar Crater. The dense monsoon vegetation gave way to glimpses of a gorgeous temple made of stone. We reached closer to take pictures. It’s a Shiva Temple, and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is working on its restoration. These temples were built during the Chalukya Dynasty’s rule, around the 8th/9th Century AD. What did the people think of the brackish lake waters? What did they do with it? Some say it has healing powers.

I tried to keep a track of the temples with the photographs, but failed, as time erased some memories. Too much information to keep track of! But here are my text notes:

1st temple in the forest trek : Shiv Temple : 9th Century by Chalukya Dynasty
2nd temple : Rama Temple : Chalukya Dynasty in the 9th Century AD
3rd Temple was full of bats. It was a Shiva Temple also 9th Century additions by the Yadavkalin Dynasty.
4th Temple : Shiv Temple 16 positions are shown carved in rock here.
5th : Padmavati Temple : It has regular Puja happening here. The goddess inside is Swambhu.
6th Temple : Shiv temple again.
7th Temple : Shiv Temple without the Shiv Lingam
8th : Shiv Temple
9th : Daitya Guru Shukra Acharya : He found Sanjeevini in Lonar Crater and would treat Daityas. This temple was his vaidyashala.
10th : Kumareshwar Temple also by Chalukya Dynasty. This is also a Shiv Temple.

The last temple on top is Gaumukh Temple made by Hoysala Kings. Later additions were made by Nana Saheb Peshwa and Ahilyabai Holkar.

Our visit to Lonar is posted here in an earlier article.

Shiva Temple at Lonar
Shiva Temple at Lonar

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Lonar Crater : Born Out Of Alien Impact

We were in Aurangabad, and nothing much happening on the work front which required us to turn back, were tempted to visit Lonar. About 60,000 years ago (they say around the Pleistocene Epoch), a meteor is supposed to have struck this place in Buldana district of Maharashtra, created a massive crater about 6.7km in circumference and 1.2km in diameter. The impact must have created huge tremors, fires, whatnot, but it has also left a very unique lake here. Lonar crater is the only known hyper velocity impact crater in basaltic rock anywhere on earth. In 2007 biological nitrogen fixation was discovered in this lake.

The drive from Aurangabad to Lonar takes about 4 hours at a normal pace. The roads are not too good. But the journey is beautiful with agricultural fields on both sides, and apart from Jalna, not much ugly industrial landscapes.

We stayed at the MTDC Lonar (there aren’t too many options here), and were pleasantly surprised. They cooked to our tastes, and rooms were fairly good. We were also lucky to get a good guide Ramesh. We decided to go for a trek of the entire crater the next morning.

The climb down is kind of steep, but not too stressful. The walk around the Lonar crater is around 7km, starting with a moderately steep descent and then through a trail in the thick forest. Through the trail we came across a total of 10 ancient temples around the lake.

The lake waters are a rich green due to some kind of algae. The outer circumference waters have a neutral pH of 7 and the inner waters are a high alkaline or around pH11. We had read the lake forest has chinkaras and gazelles, but only found traces of wild boar, a couple of hyenas, grey langoors, fruit bats, grey hornbills, grey tits, Indian koels, alexandrine parakeets, oriental magpie robins, Indian robin, black winged stilts, red wattled lapwings, collared doves, peafowl, and heard grey fantails, and perhaps a few other birds I am missing out. We had visited in August, so everything was fresh and green, and the weather cool and breezy.

So this is Part One of our Lonar visit, which covers the lake. Part Two will cover the temples around the lake and Part Three, the other temples in the city.

Lonar
The drive to Lonar from Aurangabad is beautiful and we fell in love with this gorgeous evening light.
Lonar Crater
Our first glimpse of the lake was in the dark, but with just enough light to get a shot.

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Grass Roots Wayanad : A Stay Amidst The Jungles

Our whirlwind Wayanad trip was very pleasurably spent at the wonderful Grass Roots Camp at Koilery. Run by Ravi and Rachel, coffee planters, Grass Roots is set inside a small coffee, areca nut and pepper plantation and  has extremely comfortable tents with large luxurious bath rooms attached. The meals are fresh, and prepared with much love.  You can book a stay at Grass Roots from here.

Though the tents overlook old tea estates, and there are plenty of walks around, spending a lazy day in your tent is very rewarding. We spent half a day bird watching and managed to photograph so many.

Tickell's Blue Flycatcher
Not sure but looks like a Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher (Cyornis tickelliae)

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The Beautiful Wilderness Of Wayanad

Often, when you are reaching the tipping point at work, all that you want to do is to go somewhere you can relax and do nothing. Our recent stay at Wayanad was one such ‘do nothing’ type trips.

After a few months of stressful long hours of work, we decided to take off and wanted to be amidst dense greenery. Wayanad was decided upon and we selected Grass Roots for the stay. They have extremely comfortable camps near huge tea gardens, and it all was too inviting to search further.

We drove to Wayanad from Bangalore and took a route driving past the Kabini Reservoir and through the Bandipur forest road. The drive itself is gorgeous, with enough stopovers for great food (the Kamat’s Lokaruchi on Mysore Highway is great for breakfast). If you avoid a weekend, you can avoid the heavy traffic on this road. The journey next to the Kabini Reservoir and through the forest is beautiful with enough sightings possible in the forest road. We spotted a Crested Serpent Eagle (Spilornis cheela), Common Hawk Cuckoo (Hierococcyx varius), Bonnet Macaques (Macaca radiata), Malabar giant squirrels, (Ratufa indica) amongst many other birds and small mammals. People have spotted tigers, leopards and elephants here.

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Vishrambaug Wada : The Magnificent Heritage of Pune

It’s always so inspiring to walk through the lanes of old cities and discover countless heritage structures and tonnes of history. Pune is one such city and having been the seat of the Maratha empire, was the political centre of the Indian subcontinent in the 18th Century. It thus has plenty of history and heritage to offer. Pune is  considered the cultural capital of Maharashtra. And in one congested lane of old Pune, Morale Bajirao Road, lies the magnificent Vishrambaug Wada.

Vishrambaug Wada was built in 1807 AD and took some six years to complete construction. Bajirao II preferred this Wada to the Shaniwar Wada and stayed here for over 11 years after which he was arrested by the British and detained at Bithur near Kanpur. (Subsequently the Brits took over Pune).

In 1821 a Sanskrit school was started at Vishrambaug Wada. Government Engineering College, Deccan College and Pune University and Agricultural College all started out in these premises. In 1930 the Pune Municipal Corporation bought the property from the British Government for a sum of about a lakh of rupees and the PMC operated out of this building till about 2003. Now the PMC has undertaken a restoration of the Wada under the Heritage Corridor Plan.

Since we had reached in the evening in thinning light, and much of the Vishrambaug Wada is under renovation, we couldn’t shoot more pictures.

Pune Market
The lanes around the market comprise Old Pune, and have bustling markets in them.
DSCF0978
Stepping inside Vishrambaug Wada one sees the wonderful architecture and woodwork.

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Nashala : A Tiny Village In The Mountains of Himachal Pradesh

There are many, many quaint villages in the Himalayas, and how we wish we could visit as many of them as possible before they get commercially exploited and lose their charm and innocence.

Nashala is one such quaint Himalayan village. Towards the right of Naggar Haveli, a winding 5km road around the hills, and through pine forests lies this gorgeous village, where most of the homes are still traditional in architecture. This sleepy agrarian village was the perfect spot for us to spend a day hanging around, photographing. Stay was in Manali, and all meals at Naggar Castle. Katrain could also be a good place to stay with delicious home cooked meals in your own tree house!

dhaba
Dhaba on the way to Manali on the Chandigarh – Manali Highway.
Manali Highway Road Construction
The road to Manali is terrible, with construction everywhere. So bad, that I now fear driving to Manali. It was like this earlier last year, and so about 4 years ago.

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Road Trip Through Rajasthan : 6400 km

Great road trips are made of these. Delicious road side food, beautiful country side roads and pleasant surprises through out. And in Rajasthan, thankfully, we had plenty of all that during our long work-related stay. We drove from Mumbai and went to Udaipur, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Sawai Madhopur, Alwar, Sariska, Mount Abu, Delhi, Sili Serh, and many of these places many times. We wanted to come back via Madhya Pradesh so went from Mount Abu to Chittorgarh and then via Mandsaur and Ratlam to Mumbai.

We learnt that the Milk Cake of Alwar is the best in the Universe. We learnt that Mount Abu is a fantastic place to re-visit and that the Pyaz Ki Kachori with Jalebi and Lassi is the best breakfast ever. We learnt that the Poha in Madhya Pradesh is divine. We learnt about ancient Buddhist Stupa near Virat Nagar, Rajasthan this town once being the capital of the Mahajanapada Kingdom.

– Rajasthan is awesome to drive in, and most roads are in good condition, the drives are scenic and beautiful.
– The drive from Jaipur to Delhi is terrible with lots of traffic, trucks and delays. Unless you start like at 5 am. Also, avoid this route after dark, it’s not very safe. There have been instances of robbing.
– NH8 from Mumbai to Udaipur is a superb well built road, but the stretch in Gujarat is boring and full of factories and trucks on either side. On our way back, we came via Madhya Pradesh.
– Madhya Pradesh roads generally were in bad condition and too much traffic and many small towns on the way.
– Highway food is generally decent throughout.
– The roads became better when we entered Maharashtra, but full of speed breakers around Nashik. Be careful.
– It becomes difficult to find good food on the highways once you enter Maharashtra.

We learnt we should do this more often and take notes 🙂

Highway Dhaba, Rajasthan
This dhaba between Udaipur and jaipur had great food to offer, and a lovely walk behind it, to a wetland body full of birds.
Riverside, Rajasthan.
A walk behind the dhaba revealed this river side.
Acacia nilotica
And next to the river, this awesome walk, with Kikar (Acacia nilotica) Trees in full yellow bloom.

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Birding Near Nashik

The early bird gets the worm, and the earlier the birder, the better the birds. Birding is a joy in the grasslands around Nashik. However lazy one gets in the winters of midland India, it’s always more than worth pushing oneself out to the field with the first rays of the sun.

Pushing ourselves out of a comfortably warm room, we moved towards a tiny patch of privately owned grasslands near Nashik, in the hope of a morning well spent birding. A cold breeze number my shutter finger as I tried approaching the tiny rockchats and pippits, already out looking for breakfast, keeping the grassland ecosystem in good shape. We had only about two hours before work made us leave, so we tried making the most of it.

black_winged_kite
A Black Winged Kite (Elanus caeruleus) circles overhead looking for prey. By eating up any rodents and reptiles these beautiful raptors prove to a farmer’s good friends.

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Sambhar Lake And Salt Pans: Birding Heaven

During a train journey from Jaipur to Jodhpur, we were pleasantly surprised to see vast vistas of shallow salt plains with what looked like Flamingos in the far distance. A quick check on the route revealed we were crossing the Sambhar Lake. Located some 90km South West of Jaipur, it’s India’s largest inland salt lake. … Read more Sambhar Lake And Salt Pans: Birding Heaven

Kolkata : A Charming City Full Of Heritage

It’s difficult to cover Kolkata’s rich heritage in a blog post, but in a series of posts we shall try and cover what’s possible. Kolkata, spelt as Calcutta till recently, was the Capital of India for over 200 years, till 1911. As such, the city is steeped in history, architecture, culture, museums, libraries, universities, theatre … Read more Kolkata : A Charming City Full Of Heritage

The Serenity of South Goa

We have never been excited by the noisy, crowded parts of North Goa. And when we had to reach Goa around Christmas for work we were afraid all places would be sold out or too loud. A bit of a search around South Goa, an oasis of calm and serenity, and we locked on to a beautiful place called Ordo Sounsar  (meaning Another World, in Goan), on Talpona Beach, run by the charismatic Serafin Fernandes.

The Location:

The location was a bit of a trouble finding at night, which is all the better, since it attracts less crowds. At one point we had to cross a narrow iron bridge over the river Talpona, fearing it could scrape our car from either or both sides.

Bridge on Talpona River
An extremely narrow bridge on the way to Talpona Beach in South Goa.

Once we found the place, we were shown our lovely shack, made of bamboo, raised on stilts. These shacks are temporary and taken down every monsoons. The rooms were cozy and the open top bathroom very cool. Goa during end December becomes very cold at night with temperatures dipping to around 15 degrees, and add a cold sea breeze to that. We were thrilled to have discovered just the tucked away place to spend our Christmas and New Years’.

Mornings here wake up to a clean and serene beach, with only a fellow traveller or two practicing yoga. Our shack was right on the beach so we could hear the sea throughout. If you are the types who likes to connect to a peaceful and very indigenous local culture, South Goa would appeal to you. There isn’t much to do around here, which is very good, because you can truly relax. We discovered another shack next to ours which serves delicious local food, at very reasonable prices, called Deepiksha, and it became our meal destination. A walk down the road either way, and we discovered just a couple of more places, all serving great food, and all very peaceful.

The Talpona river forms a beautiful estuary as it meets the Arabian Sea. It’s home to many species of bird and marine life. A small ‘mangrove safari’ in a local fisherman’s boat is highly recommeded. Do carry your binoculars for spotting the many species of birds found here.  Evenings are spent lazing around, taking walks down the estuary backwaters while listeing to a Lineated Barbet, and stopping by some shack for your tea. It was during this trip that we also visited the nearby Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary.

South Goa is very peaceful and gorgeous, if you want to be away from the crowds. And lets hope and pray it stays that way.

Dinner at beach shack in south Goa.
Dinner at the shack was delicious and cozy, amidst the sea breeze and rustling of casuarina trees.

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Ranthambhore Fort

One of the things that make Ranthambhore National Park so mesmerising is the backdrop of the majestic Ranthambhore Fort. So a visit to the fort is a must. As we entered the fort one evening, the sun was already down on the horizon, and we weren’t too sure of spending too much time inside. It looked just too ‘touristy’. Soon a local guide started following us, while we didn’t want him. After much negotiation, we agreed to let him ‘guide’ us through a tour of the fort. It turned out, as usual in such places, to be a good idea.

The Ranthambhore Fort has seen many ups and downs and our guide Lal Singh narrated them all, some fact, some legend. As we walked through the stone corridors, the large Pols (or doors), the narrow winding steps, the Badal Mahal, Hameer Palace etc, his stories enacted the scenes in our minds. We felt our blood boil at the back stabbing of Rana Hameer Singh, the heart saddened at the mass Jauhar of the fort women, we heard the footsteps of infantry, and the horses running up the stone steps.

From the Badal Mahal and the higher regions of the fort, we sat and soaked a commanding view of the Ranthambhore National Park and the Padam Talao. We imagined the tigers basking by the lake amidst the tall grass. We heard the Bulbuls sing, the Indian Robins chase flies in the bush. We wished we had come with more time.

Built around 944 AD at an altitude of 700 metres above the surrounding plains by the Nagil Jats, the fort was also known as Ranasthambha or Ranasthambhapura. There is a Buddhist Bharhut Stupa inside the fort. established around 3rd Century BC, by the Maurya King Ashoka. One of the pillars bears an inscription which reads:

Moragirihma Nāgilāyā bhikhuniya dānam thabho.

Meaning: ” Pillar-gift of the Nun Nagila of Moragiri.”

Moragiri mentioned here is a town in Satara district, Maharashtra. Thus Nagil clan was in existence during Ashoka’s period as followers of Buddhism. (From Wikipedia).

Over centuries the fort passed through the hands of many ruling dynasties. The majestic architecture and its history of the Ranthambhore Fort make it a must see in the small dusty town of Sawai Madhopur.

Guide Map of Ranthambhore Fort.
Guide Map of Ranthambhore Fort.

Ranthambhore Fort Steps and Chatri
The winding steps up the fort are designed very well to slow down an enemy assault.

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