Somnath

We continued our pilgrimage to Somnath as planned. We reached Somnath yesterday in the afternoon. We checked in to the hotel. After taking our lunch, we went to the Somnath temple. The Somnath Temple located in the Prabhas Kshetra near Veraval in Saurashtra, on the western coast of Gujarat, India, is one of the twelve Jyotirlinga shrines of the God Shiva. Somnath means “The Protector of (the) Moon God”. The Somnath Temple is known as “the Shrine Eternal”.  It also has the sacred soil from where Bhagvan Shri Krishna took his last journey to his neejdham.

 As per Shiv Mahapuran, once Brahma (the Hindu God of creation) and Vishnu (the Hindu God of protection) had an argument in terms of supremacy of creation. To test them, Shiva pierced the three worlds as a huge endless pillar of light, the jyotirlinga. Vishnu and Brahma split their ways to downwards and upwards respectively to find the end of the light in either directions. Brahma lied that he found out the end, while Vishnu conceded his defeat. Shiva appeared as a second pillar of light and cursed Brahma that he would have no place in ceremonies while Vishnu would be worshiped till the end of eternity.

Somnath Temple

Ancient Indian traditions maintain a close relationship of Somnath with release of Chandra (Moon God) from the curse of his father-in-law Daksha Prajapati. Moon was married to Twenty-Seven daughters of Daksha. However, he favored Rohini and neglected other queens. The aggrieved Daksha cursed Moon and the Moon lost power of light. With the advice of Brahma, Moon arrived at the Prabhas Teerth and worshiped Bhagwan Shiva. Pleased with the great penance and devotion of Moon, Bhagwan Shiva blessed him and relieved him from the curse of darkness partially, thus causing the periodic waning of moon. Pauranic traditions maintain that Moon had built a golden temple, followed by a silver temple by Ravana, Bhagvan Shree Krishna is believed to have built Somnath temple with Sandalwood. Located as it is, it is widely believed that if one were to sail from here in a straight line, the end of the journey would be at the North Pole, without having to travel over land.

We reached Somnath temple after visting Bhalka Tirth – the legendary spot where Lord Krishna was mistakenly hit by the arrow of a hunter. We worshiped at the Krishna temple there.

No electronic item is allowed inside Somnath temple. We deposited our camera, mobile phones at the locker room and walked into the temple. We worshiped at the temple. Then we went to the famous Triveni Ghat.

Triveni Ghat in Somnath is the meeting point of three holy rivers – Kapil, Hiran and a mystical River Saraswati, which are believed to be flowing to their ultimate destination – Arabian Sea.

These stages of rivers where they meet and then flow together to the sea symbolizes human birth, life and death. Considered as a sacred location for taking a holy dip to get rid of all curses and diseases,

Triveni Ghat holds a significant place in the Hindu Mythology and Puranas and also finds a mention in the Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. It is believed that Lord Krishna visited this holy spot when he was hurt by an arrow shot by Jara – a hunter.

I offered tarpana to my ancestors. Prabhash teertha is a holy place to offer tarpana to ancestors. Also, it’s the pitripaksh. After that, we returned to Somnath temple for Aarti scheduled at 7 PM. We also joined in the Aarti. After that we relaxed for sometime in the lawns and then returned to our hotel.

Today, we are leaving for Rajkot via Sasan Gir, Junagarh and Gondal. On the way, we will pay our respect to Jalaram in Veerpur.

Madhavpur

There is a serene beach at Madhavpur on the road to Somnath from Dwarka. It lies on the seashore, close to Porbandar.

We stopped here to enjoy the beach for a moment and to have a look around.

There are a few shacks and some vendors in open selling green coconut.

We had green coconut at the beach. The coconut water tasted sweet. We opted for the ones with flesh too. The flesh was also nice.

According to folklore, Krishna married Rukmini at Madhavpur after first kidnapping her. This event is memorialized with a temple dedicated to lord Madhavrai and by an annual fair held in the village. The original temple has been badly damaged in attacks by Muslim invaders; however a ruined structure is still present.

After getting refreshed by cool sea waves and nice tender coconut, we proceeded for Somnath.

Dwarka

Jaya was planning for pilgrimage to Dwarka, but it was getting deferred. We planned this time for our visit to Dwarka.

Located on the west coast of Gujarat, Dwarka is known as Lord Krishna’s adobe. Dwarka, the holy land surrounded with the legends of Lord Krishna, is a significant pilgrimage site for the Hindus. The city lies in the westernmost part of India. Dwaraka (also known as Dvaravati, both names meaning “the many-gated city” in Sanskrit.

We reached Jamnagar by air via Mumbai. From Jamnagar airport, we drove down to Dwarka. On the route we crossed the famous Reliance Industries Ltd and Essar oil Ltd. We had our stay arrangements at Govardhan Greens. It’s a nice, tiny resort just at the outskirt of Dwarka.

Dwarka is a relatively flat region at sea level, having an average elevation of 0 metres. It is one of the seven most ancient cities in the country.  it is considered to be one of the holiest cities in Hinduism and one of the Char Dham along with Badrinath, Puri, Rameswaram. The city is especially respected by Vaishnavas. Adi Shankaracharya had visited Dvarakadisha Shrine and had established the Dwaraka Pitha. The others are at Shringeri, Puri and Jyotirmath.

This legendary town is well-visited by religious travellers world-wide for its famous Jagatmandir temple that houses the Dwarkadhish (Lord Krishna) and dates back to 2500 years. The Lord here is dressed in Kalyana Kolam where he appears to be in a Royal Wedding costume. It is one of the 108 Divya desams.

The present temple was built from 6th to 7th century, while the original temple was believed to have been built by Krishna’s great grandson, King Vajra. The 5-storied temple is made of limestone and sand. A flag is hoisted in the temple tower five times each day. There are two gateways – Swarga Dwar, where pilgrims enter, and Moksha Dwar, where pilgrims exit. From the temple one can view the Sangam (confluence) of River Gomati flowing towards the sea.

The temple opens at 5 PM. So, we had some tea after checking in at the resort and then went to the temple. Cameras, phones are not allowed there and therefore we left our mobiles and cameras in the car. It’s a nice temple. We worshiped at the temple. There is divinity at the temple and one can feel the divine vibrations.

We returned home in the night. Next day, we planned to visit Bet Dwarka. This is the place where Krishna used to reside and this is the place where Lord Krishna met his friend Sudama and blessed him, there is a Peetha (seat) where Lord Krishna met Sudama. The temple also has the main Dwarkadish deity which was believed to have been made by Krishna’s chief Queen Rukmini and in which Meera bai merged and disappeared from the material world.

Bet Dwarka Island, also known as Bet Shankhodhara, is situated in the Gulf of Kutch. Early historic settlement remains have been located on the island which may be dated back to 3rd century BC on the basis of a potsherd inscribed with ‘Nandakasa’ in the Mauryan Brahmi script.

We drove to Okha jetty, which is around 30 km from Dwarka. There are boats available from Okha Jetty from where people are ferried to the Island. It was quite a sunny morning, but when we reached Okha, it was quite cloudy. We boarded a boat to reach Bet Dwarka.

We then went to Dwarkadheesh temple after reaching the island. We then had bhog there in the temple premises. The temple and other coastal sites have ample antiquities, mainly potsherds, suggesting maritime trade and commerce with the Mediterranean countries around the Christian era. As we walked out of the temple, it started raining. We hired an autorickshaw to take us to Hanuman temple. This is the place where Hanuman fought with his son Makaradhwaja. From here we rushed to the jetty as it was raining heavily then. On reaching the jetty, we found a boat ready to leave. We managed to get Jaya’s father inside the cabin. We were on the deck of the boat. As we returned to Okha jetty, we were completely drenched.

We then went on to see Gopi Talav. This is the place where Lord Krishna used to play with his Gopikas. There is a small pond where it is said that Lord Krishna used to play with the Gopika Strees (Gopika Women). From here, we went to Nageshwar Temple – this is also one of the prominent Jyotirlingas. We performed Rudrabhishek here.

We returned to Dwarka after visiting Rukmini temple. This temple is situated at 8 Kms from Dwarka. This is in the outskirts of the city and this is a lonely temple and there is an interesting story of Rukmini being cursed by sage Durvasa because of which the temple is situated outside the city and it’s because of this curse only that the water in Dwarka city is salty.

We then visited Bhadkeshwar Mahadev Temple. It is set right in the middle of the Arabian sea near Dwarka.

We then returned back to our resort. Today we spent moving around completely drenched in rain.

Munching on Bamboo

Researchers from the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies took this picture of a shark eating another shark near the Great Barrier Reef.
The shark being eaten is a bamboo shark. The shark doing the eating is a tasseled wobbegong(!!), a type of “carpet shark” that will hang out, camouflaged on the floor, and then munch the hell out other sharks.
Nature is crazy!

Sab teertha bar-bar, Gangasagar ekbar!

Gangasagar is a charming tourist destination, which attracts both pilgrims and adventure lovers. Located on an island in the Sunderbans, Gangasagar offers the charms of an un-spoilt beach on the estuary of the river Ganges. Gangasagar has acres of silver sand and clear blue sky, and the calm sea to spend the time in tranquillity. Gangasagar is about 135 km away from Kolkata.

The pristine holy beach where the Ganga river meets Bay of Bengal

The island of Gangasagar is one of the most famous Hindu pilgrimage centers in India. Every year on Makar Sankranti (mid-January), pilgrims from all over India, gather at Gangasagar for a holy dip at the confluence of the river Ganga and the Bay of Bengal. On the occasion of Makar Sankranti, Gangasagar Mela is organized in this island, which is one of the biggest fairs in West Bengal. Gangasagar finds mention in many tales of Hindu mythology and in ancient Indian literature like the Ramayana, the Mahabharata.

Having jhalnuri while traveling by a steamer to reach the Sagardwip

To avoid the rush, my friend Rina, his son Soumya and I went to Gangasagar in December. We went there in a steamer after reaching the ferry point by car. We had some jhal-muri on the ferry.

On reaching Gangasagar, also known as Sagardwip, we went to the estuary where the holy Ganga River meets the sea – Bay of Bengal.

We dipped in the water and enjoyed at the beach.

After taking bath at Gangasagar with Rina and Somu

Then we went to the temple of Kapil muni. After worshiping at the temple we moved to return to our home by ferry and then by our car. It was a lovely trip and we enjoyed it a lot.

Kapil Muni temple

Now, I am planning to visit here again with my husband.

Byblos revisited

Today, we had off-day from meetings. We will resume tomorrow again.

It is still raining in Beirut. Rafeef, Waddah and I decided to hit the road for Byblos.

I like going to Byblos; it is a journey down the history of civilization. Byblos is one of the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. It is believed to be founded in 5,000 BC.

When reached Byblos, it was raining out there. Walked into a cafe – e-cafe for some coffee and respite from the rain. Had hot double espresso to warm me up in the rains!The coffee was great! As we finished our coffee, the rains stopped. Thank God.

At E-Cafe – nice ambiance with a historic touch

Some hot coffee and refreshments, while its raining outside

After that we walked out. Went to the souk and also to the fossil museum.

Souk

There are a lot of fossils available in Byblos and these are dated more than 100 million years old. Being enthused to possess fossils as these are also available for sale. I bought fossils for my personal collections and as a souvenir.

A 100 million year old fossil

Then, we walked besides the sea. It was a lovely sight. With waves lashing on the stones around the beach and clouds over our head, it was a good sight to enjoy.

Then walked  to restaurant Bab el Mina. Had some local catch fish lunch with red wine.

Nothing more than red wine and fried fish for lunch

Then we returned back to the hotel.

Harissa

Visited Harissa, an important Lebanese pilgrimage site high above Jounieh, located at 650 meters altitude from the coast and 20 km distance from Beirut the capital city. We went up the hill by a gondola lift, known as the “Téléférique”. It attracts both pilgrims and tourists. The views of Jounieh and the Mediterranean Sea are wonderful from the top of this hill.

Lovely view from the top of Harissa

The main site is a huge 15-ton bronze and painted white statue of Virgin Mary, known as Our Lady of Lebanon or Notre Dame du Liban, with her arms outstretched. The 8 meters and a half long statue was made in Lyon.

Virgin Mary

Notre Dame du Liban

The statue was made at the end of the 19th century and inaugurated in 1908.

Chapel at the base of the statue

Inside the statue’s base there is a small chapel.

St. Paul Basilica

There are a lot of beautiful Lebanese cedar trees around the place, which is also the symbol of Lebanon. These trees are native of Lebanon, Syria and some parts of Turkey.

A Lebanese Cedar tree

Lebanese Cedar – Cedrus libani – is a species of cedar native to the mountains of the Mediterranean region. These trees grow in Lebanon, Israel, northwest Jordan, western Syria, and south central Turkey.

Cedrus libani is an evergreen coniferous tree growing up to 40 m (130 ft) tall, with a trunk up to 2.5 m (8 ft 2 in) in diameter. The crown is conic when young, becoming broadly tabular with age with fairly level branches.

The Cedar of Lebanon was important to various ancient civilizations. The trees were used by the Phoenicians for building commercial and military ships, as well as houses, palaces, and temples. The ancient Egyptians used its resin in mummification, and its sawdust has been found in the tombs of Egyptian Pharaohs. The Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh designates the cedar groves of Lebanon as the dwelling of the gods to which Gilgamesh, the hero, ventured.

Hebrew priests were ordered by Moses to use the bark of the Lebanon Cedar in circumcision and the treatment of leprosy. The Hebrew prophet Isaiah used the Lebanon Cedar as a metaphor for the pride of the world.  Because of its significance the word Cedar is mentioned 75 times (Cedar 51 times, Cedars 24 times) in the Bible. It was also used by Romans, Greeks, Persians, Assyrians and Babylonians.

Puducherry (Pondicherry)

Pondicherry has now been renamed as Puducherry in 2006. It is affectionately known as Pondy. It is a blend of spiritual aura, French colonial heritage, Tamil culture, virgin beaches and the cosmopolitan flair of many nationalities in a small but varied city. Pondicherry was designed on the French grid pattern and features neat sectors and perpendicular streets.

Rooftop of Hotel Promenade

Open air restaurant on the roof top of our hotel – The Promenade

While our trip to Pondicherry, we reached Chennai and from the Airport took a cab to Pondicherry. We had our hotel reservations at The Promenade. It is on the beach.

From Wikipedia, I gathered that the name Puducherry means New Hamlet in Tamil, the local language. During the colonial period the name was changed to Pondicherry. Pondicherry was widely used for a long time to refer to the region. In 2006, the name for the state and the capital city officially reverted to Puducherry.

During ancient times, it is known as Poduke or Podukai. Ancient Greeks referred to this place as Poduke and Aryans referred as Vedapuri. A marketplace named Poduke or Poduca is recorded as a Roman trading destination from the mid 1st century. The area was part of the Pallava Kingdom of Kanchipuram in the 4th century. The Cholas of Thanjavur held it from the 10th to 13th centuries, only to be replaced by the Pandya Kingdom in the 13th century. The Vijayanagar Empire took control of almost all the South of India in the 14th century and lasted until 1638, to be supplanted by the Sultan of Bijapur. The French acquired Puducherry in 1674 and held control, with occasional interruption from the British and Dutch, until 1962, when it was incorporated into the Indian Union.

The approach to Puducherry from Chennai was a nice East Coast Road running besides the Bay of Bengal. We had our lunch at Mahabalipuram, another ancient township, on the coast of Bay of Bengal. There are several ancient caves with paintings etc.

We stopped at this highway motel for lunch. We had a nice South Indian thali lunch here.

 Pondicherry is one of the important tourist centres in South India. Besides its beach, temples, churches, the main attraction is the Aurobindo Ashram, Auroville.

Old lighthouse

There is an old lighthouse just across the beach. Although abandoned, but it is still a landmark of the town. The Gandhi statue is the prominent landmark of Pondicherry on the sea beach.

Gandhi statue on the beach

Puducherry still retains much evidence of it being a French settlement. It is surrounded by Tamil Nadu from three sides. There is a strong French influence in the city, especially in the old quarters, with Rues and Boulevards lined with Mediterranean style houses and bakeries, although the city remains very much Indian.

We had a nice 3 day stay at Puducherry.

Tharangambadi – Land of singing waves

Tharangambadi (or Tranquebar) is a panchayat town in Nagapattinam district in Tamil Nadu near the mouth of a distributary of the Kaveri River. Its name means “land of the singing waves”. This picturesque coastal town lies 15 km south of the ancient Chola port of  Pumpuhar, and 15 km north of the former French comptoir of Karikal. From 1620 to 1845 it was a Danish settlement ruled by Governors, till the British took over its administration. Thrangambadi became Tranquebar for the Danes!

We visited Tharangampadi from Pondicherry. It is about 135 km from Pondicherry. The fort was built by Naval Col. Ove Gedde with the permission of Raghunatha Nayakkan, the king of Tanjore to export pepper to Denmark.

This fort was the residence and headquarters of the governor and other officials for about 150 years. It is now a museum hosting a collection of artifacts from the colonial era as early as 1620.

This is one of the few sites where Danes tried their luck in India. Their other important settlement was at Serampore near Kolkata.  Danish East India Company was formed in 1616 for doing trade with India. It was c1845, they sold their settlements to British East India Company.

There are a few inhabitants around. It is not a popular tourist destination and hence the tranquility is maintained. In this tranquil sea beach, there was a house of the Captain, which has now been remodeled into a heritage hotel by the Neemrana group and named it as the Bungalow on the beach. We had a lovely lunch at the Bungalow on the beach.

A short stay in Colombo

While returning from Maldives, we planned for a short stay at Colombo, capital of Sri Lanka. Accordingly, I booked for us at Hotel Taj Samudra. This hotel is just on the sea beach facing Indian Ocean. The hotel is quite far from the airport and it took almost 90 minutes to reach the hotel.

Entrance of Hotel Taj Samudra

The hotel is a nice one and we had sea facing rooms. In the evening, we went to the beach for a walk on Galle Face Green. The sea was quite rough at Colombo and we saw huge sea waves splashing on the sea shore.

Walking by Indian Ocean

The Galle Face promenade off the sea is at a height so we could not go to the sea. The green grassy promenade is a place for families to gather and spend their leisure, flying kites, eating gram, playing cricket and soccer, or even simply jogging along to keep fit and slim. Evenings on the promenade are always choked to capacity with people and vendors.

Enjoying watching the waves hitting the shore at Galle Face

An old Canon in the Fort area at Galle Face

Presidential Secretariat – Old Parliament Building

Galle Face Hotel – a heritage hotel with Victorian architecture, built in 1864.

We walked about 2 kilometers by the sea enjoying the cool breeze and then returned to the hotel for a good dinner.

Outside a hotel restaurant at Taj Samudra

View of Indian Ocean from our room

The next day, we went for a city tour.

Fort

Gangaramaya Temple

Simamalaka shrine, on an island in Beira Lake

We saw Buddhist temple and other buildings and park. Sri Lanka is famous for its gems. Jaya bought a gem set from a shop for her. We bought several masks as souvenir.

Gangaramaya Temple – The temple’s architecture demonstrates a mix of Sri Lankan, Thai, Indian, and Chinese architecture.

Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall

Town Hall

A giant Buddha statue

Independence Memorial Hall – Statue of first President of Sri Lanka

Independence Memorial Hall

Fort

We will return to home tomorrow.