India is home to one of the most beautiful mountains in the world, the Himalaya Mountains, which boast the world’s highest and most famous mountain peak, Mt. Everest.
In a memorable verse of the ‘Kumarsambhava’, the famous Sanskrit poet Kalidasa compares the Himalaya to a gigantic measuring rod striding the earth between two oceans. The snow-capped peaks are indeed the most impressive feature. Himalaya, a Sankrit word, which means ‘ The Abode Of Snow’ and all other names used to describe this mountain range associate it with eternal snow – “Himvan”, “Himvat”, “Himachal” and “Himadri”.
Interestingly, a vast shallow sea, the Tethys, existed where the Himalaya stands today. The submerged landmasses on either side started pushing towards each other, giving birth to these mountains. This was a relatively recent occurrence in the geographical time frame, so the Himalaya is considered a young and fragile land formation.
Scientists speculate that the whole process took five to seven million years. Fossil finds at heights of over 26,000 feet support these theories. The Himalaya has risen about 6,600 feet in the past 20,000 years and continues to rise at the rate 3-4 inches a year.
No other chain can boast of peaks of 26,000 feet. In the Himalaya there are 14 such peaks and hundreds of summits over 23,000 feet high. The range of mountains stretches 1,700 miles across an area between Assam and Kashmir. In the east, Namche Barwa stands sentinel; the western extremity is guarded by the awesome Nanga Parbat.
The Himalaya is the source of many great rivers of the Indian subcontinent. The Indus or Sindhu (the river rising out of a lion’s mouth) rises in the trans-Himalayan Tibetan Plateau, as does the Brahmaputra. The Ganga and Yamuna, with their countless colourful Himalayan tributaries, are inextricably intertwined with local myths and legends.
Rajasthan, India’s westernmost state is the very essence of exotic India. To really get a sense of the desert state, nothing comes close to a camel safari. Climb up on one of these seemingly awkward beasts, hang on for dear life, and let the good times roll, for the Ship of the Desert walks in a way which would certainly remind any sailor of a rolling, pitching deck in tumultuous waters!
Winters are the best time for a camel safari. Rajasthan’s summers are almost unbearably hot and arid, so going on a camel safari during this time is impractical. November to March, when days are cool (and nights cold) is when most camel safaris are organized.
Desert nights can get very chilly, so it’s necessary to take along warm sweaters and jackets. Although mattresses are usually provided by whoever’s organizing the camel safari, you’ll need to carry bedding – a warm sleeping bag is suggested. During the daytime, the sun can be scorching, so make sure you get your hat, a pair of sunglasses and sunscreen lotion. Take a first aid kit along with you, as well as any other essentials you might need – out there in the desert, trying to find a shop can be a difficulty. It’s a good idea to carry along added blankets to cover the wooden saddle, which you’ll most likely be sitting on. Blankets are excellent padding, and can protect you from a sore bottom after a hard day’s riding.
Most camel safaris start from Jaisalmer, which is connected by air, train and road to the rest of India. All camel-safari towns in Rajasthan, such as Bikaner and Mandawa, are connected by road to Jaipur. Buses run between all the major towns of the state, and private cars or taxis can be hired to do the trip
No matter when you choose to visit India, you are bound to enjoy the chance to experience one of their many festivals first hand. There are festivals devoted to gods, seasonal agricultural celebrations, political events, camels, elephants and many other reasons Indians find as a chance to celebrate and re-enact centuries old customs.
Each religious group in India has its own calendar of major festivals. For Hindus, the beginning of winter is marked by Diwali, the festival of lights, which inspires the lighting of millions of oil lamps inside homes and firecrackers outside. These celebrate the home comings of the hero Rama and his wife Sila. Prayers are given to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and boxes of sweets are exchanged between friends and family members. This five day festival is the equivalent of Christmas.
Spring brings Holi, a riotous festival where colored water and paint are scattered, leaving most people who venture outside covered in pink, blue and silver. Northern India in particular revels in this festival.
In addition, specific gods all enjoy their own festivals throughout the year.
The Muslim community holds major celebrations for Id-E-Milad, the birthday of Mohammed, the Islamic New Year and Idul Fitr, the feast that ends the 28-day Ramadan fast.
Sikhs pay annual homage to each of their ten gurus, with parades to gurudwaras. Places of worship, reading of the holy Granth and feasting.
The largest Jain festival celebrates the birth of the religious fournder, Mahavir, in April. Buddah’s birthday at the full moon in May, is marked by major processions in Sarnath and Bodh Gova..
Pushkar’s camel fair is one of the most popular regional festivals. Oters take place throughout the country and offer visitors a rare glimpse into the exotic side of India. Camels aren’t the only animals that enjoy festivals-cows and elephants also enjoy their own.
A Hill station is the term used for mountain retreats in the country of India. Some of these boast religious temples, others a chance to interact with nature at its most spectacular, and still others a simple quiet place to lay aside the hurry and worry of everyday life and just relax. Let’s explore!!
Located at an altitude of 2,050m. The Kullu valley has an ancient town in its lap called Manali. Surrounded by towering peaks seemingly at an arm’s length, Manali’s major asset is its nearness to the snowline. It is a flourishing orchard industry, a popular honeymoon destination and trailhead for numerous treks as well as a great countryside ideal for adventure sport lovers.
This hill station spreads over five low-level hills at the western edge of the Dhauladhar range, just east of the Ravi River. The picturesque town is interspersed with the colonial-era buildings, low roofed stalls and hotels. The pine-covered slopes around it are intersected with paths and treks, which are ideal for short undemanding walks.
Set against the backdrop of the dramatic Dhauladhar mountains, Dharamsala is perched on the high slopes in the upper reaches of Kangra Valley. Dharamsala over looks the plains and is surrounded by dense pine trees and Deodar forests. A nearby snowline with numerous streams and cool healthy atmosphere makes the surroundings very attractive. Dharamsala is a busy marketplace town and has established itself as the travelers base camp.
Shimla is located at an altitude of 2,159m. Shimla has been blessed with all the natural bounties one can imagine. Dwelling on a panoramic location, the hilly town is surrounded by green pastures and snow-capped peaks. The spectacular cool hills joined together with the buildings made during the colonial era create an aura, which is very different from other hill stations.
The Elephanta caves are thought to date back to the Silhara kings belonging to the period between 9th – 12th centuries. Legends and history suggest that the great warrior prince of Chalukya dynasty Pulkesin ll, raised the shrine to celebrate his victory. Some historians also suggest that the Kalchuri King Krishnaraja built these caves in 6th century AD. The entire cave temple complex covers an area of about 60,000 square feet.
The World of Lord Shiva, Elephanta is the place where the main events in the mythology of Lord Shiva are depicted most powerfully, consistently and exclusively. At Ellora though other Gods appear on the panel with Shiva, but at Elephanta there is nothing but Shiva. According to Hindu Mythology three Gods govern their world: Brahma — the creator, Vishnu — the Preserver and Maheshwara — the Destroyer. Elephanta has a story that there was a pillar whose end could not be found. Even the Gods failed to determine the length of the pillar.
Panel 6 of the caves represents the marriage of Shiva with Parvati with the rites being performed by Brahma and scores of other Gods attending the marriage. Panel 5 of the cave describes the coming of Ganga from heaven to Earth. As the great force of Ganga might have destroyed the Earth,she lands in the hair locks of Shiva who then gently releases her. The wise and righteous Lord before whom the forces of evil and ignorance flee, and are terrified into submission is carved on the 7th panel. Similarly other wall panels narrate the story of Lord Shiva.
The sculptors carved out of solid basalt rock, a representation of the heavenly mountain residence of Lord Shiva. Opening out from three sides, the temple lets in light from many angles making the sculptures seem to move with the changing angles of light.
Delhi, the capital of India, is an mixture of the old and the new. The ancient and the modern times are in combination here, not only in the remains of a succession of empires, but equally in present social structure and lifestyles. This is the place most people think of when they consider visiting India.
The name Delhi, Dehali, or Dilli is derived from Dhillika, the name of the first medieval township of Delhi, located on the southwestern border of the present Delhi, in Mehrauli. This was the first in the series of seven medieval cities. It is also known as Yoginipura, that is, the fortress of the yoginis (female divinities).
There was, however, an ancient urban settlement in Delhi known as Indraprastha on the banks of the Yamuna which is traditionally believed to have been founded by the Pandava brothers, the mythical heroes of Mahabharata, the national epic of India. Excavations at the site of the township inside Purana Kila or the Old Fort show that the date of the oldest habitation in Delhi is around the 3rd or 4th century B.C.
Delhi is divided into two parts. The old Delhi or Delhi was one of the capitals of Muslim India between the 12th and 19th centuries. Old forts, mosques and monuments related to India’s Muslim history are located here. New Delhi is the imperial city that was created as the capital by the British. It is spread over a wide area and is lined with imposing boulevards.
Delhi is a major travel gateway into India. It is one of India’s busiest entry points for overseas airlines and is on the overland route access across Asia. Delhi is the place all travelers think about, but they soon discover that Delhi is only the very beginning of the wonders India has to offer.
When visiting any country, it helps to understand the basic customs of the culture. The basic rites associated with birth and marriage are covered here. Understanding these basic attitudes, as well as those regarding death, will foster understanding from visitors to this country.
Central to Hindu society is the joining of two families through arranged marriages. Adolescent girls offer negotiated dowries to the selected husband and the two are married. This is more than a joining of two people; it is a joining of two families. Money, land, tradition and social convenience all play a part in this union.
India is slowly moving into the modern world in regards to marriage. Education and more widely available birth control methods have given women more say in who they will marry and why. As women gain more control of their own lives, the middle class is showing an increased tolerance of marriages for love. Before long arranged marriages may become rituals of the past.
Rituals surrounding fertility range from making offerings at naga shrines dedicated to the snake-god of fertility to donating black stones to an ancient cactus at Calcutta’s Kali temple. When a woman in Rajasthra dons a pido, a yellow veil with a large red dot, it announces her accepted pregnancy by her community.
Male children are honored in Indian society. When a boy is born, conch shells are blown in Bengal and Assam and drums are beaten in Maharashtra. When a girl is born, the women of Rajasthan hide behind their veils and wail loudly.
Chennai, also known as Madras, the capital of Tamil Nadu, is the country’s fourth largest city. Compared to the other major metros of India, it is far less congested and polluted. Chennai was the site of the first settlement of the East India Company. It was founded in 1639, on a piece of land given by the Raja of Chandragiri, the last representative of the Vijayanagar rulers of Hampi.
The city has reasonably competent public services, public buses, and the commuter trains run smoothly. A great deal of industrial expansion has taken place in Chennai recently, with the rising of engineering plants, car-assembly plants, educational institutions, and textile manufacturing units. Though there are no major attractions as such, it does have the second biggest beach in the world, the Marina Beach. Though a popular tourist spot, the beach is not really a favorite with swimmers, as the sea is known to house a large population of sharks.
Built in 1640 AD, Fort St. George once served as the very first bastion of the East India Company. Now, it houses the Secretariat and the Legislative Assembly. The 46 meter – high flagstaff, that adorns the front of the structure, is actually a mast salvaged from a 17th century shipwreck. The Fort Museum has a remarkable collection of memorabilia, dating back to the days of the Raj. Within the Fort complex, is also the oldest Anglican Church in India, St Mary’s Church, built in 1678-1680. It also happens to be the oldest surviving British construction
The National Deer Park is the only place in the world, where one can still find a sizeable number of the endangered species of Indian antelope (the black buck). The Deer Park, along with the Madras Snake Park, which is supported by the World Wildlife Fund, are located in the Raj Bhavan premises, at Guindy.
Beaches provide a nice change from the hectic everyday life and if you are looking for a change, then hop on to the nearest beach site with your family and catch up with the lost time. India offers several wonderful beach areas.
Some of the best beach resort options include Juhu, Marine Drive and Chowpatty Beaches in Mumbai. Popular as snack joints and hangout zones of Mumbai, these beach sites provide options for evening walks on the soft sand by the sea. Kovalam Beach in Kerala provides a refreshing change from the other over crowded beach sites of India. Kovalam stands apart from the rest of the Indian beaches because of its lavish green landscape and the coconut trees along the coast. A grand feast for the eyes!
With beautiful blue waters Marine and Elliot’s Beaches provide a pleasant sightseeing experience to visitors and the pony rides will delight the kids. Muttukadu is a perfect picnic spot because of its beach. Tamil Nadu Tourist Development Corporation runs a Boat House at Muttukadu, where facilities for boating and wind surfing are available for the pleasure of beach buffs.
Puri, and Konark Beaches in Orissa also make perfect beach destination for some exciting family vacation. The tourist inflow on these beach sites still mainly includes pilgrims, besides being important temple sites of India, the waters of these beaches are prefect whether you want to take a holy dip or go for a swim.
Among the beach areas of Andhra Pradesh, the Vishakhapatnam beaches are best known for their picturesque natural environs and long beach stretches. The Ramakrishna Beach and the Lawson’s Bay are foremost places for fun and relaxation one looks for at a beach site. Near Vishakhapatnam is Bheemunipatnam, one of the safest beaches on this part of the East Coast.
Ajanta caves are located 99-km away from Aurangabad district in the state of Maharashtra. Ajanta caves were carved out from the 2nd century BC to 6th century AD, and are ranked high as a world heritage site.
In Cave 1,Prince Buddha is depicted delicately holding the fragile blue lotus, his head bent sideways as if the weight of his ornate jeweled crown is too heavy for his head. His half-closed eyes give an air of meditation, almost of shyness.
Cave number 2,which is one of the better-preserved monasteries with a shrine, shows how sculpture, paintings and architectural elements were used together to enhance the atmosphere of piety and sanctity. The ceiling and wall paintings illustrate events associated with Buddha’s birth.
A sculptured frieze of the miracle of “Sravasti”, when Buddha multiplied himself a thousand times can be seen in cave 7. In cave 17 one can find the paintings that depict stories from the Jatakas or tales of the previous incarnations of Buddha and also Buddha with his right hand raised,with the palm facing the viewer,which is a symbol of “Abhaya” – reassurance and protection.
The best surviving examples of a rock cut Chaitya Griha can be seen in cave 19 at Ajanta. The distinctive ‘horseshoe’ shaped window – flanked by ‘Yakshas’ or guardians, standing Buddha figures and elaborate decorative motifs, tops the elegant porch. The interior of the cave is profusely carved with pillars, a monolithic carved symbolic Stupa and images of Buddha, which heralded the introduction of Mahayana phase.
In cave 26,Buddha is seen seated under a Bodhi tree at Bodhgaya, meditating, when Mara and her voluptuous daughters attempted to tempt him. Buddha touched the earth with his left hand to witness his enlightenment. The “Parinivana” (ultimate enlightenment or liberation) came when Buddha left the world- as depicted in the 7m (23ft) image of the reclining Buddha in cave number 26.