Category: Destination Tips

A note on Yelagiri Hills in TamilNadu

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When we talk of hill stations in TamilNadu, natural choices that pop up are Ooty (Nilgiris), Coonoor, Kodaikanal, Yercaud, among others.  But one hill station that has remained oblivious from tourist and public attraction is Yelagri Hills, located at a distance of 230km from the capital city of Tamilnadu, Chennai; 94km from Vellore and 178km from the capital city of Karnataka, Bengaluru. This picturesque and enchanting hill station is in the Vellore district of Tamilnadu, located in between the small towns of Vaniyambadi and Jolarpettai. It is also considered by many tourists, particularly those who have been there before, to be one of the best hill stations near Chennai and Bengaluru.

Yelagiri

Yelagiri is a group of 14 hamlets that lies between four mountain ranges covering a total area of 30sq.km, located at an altitude of 3500ft above sea level. The locals, mostly indigenous tribal people, engage in horticulture, agriculture, forestry, etc. The hills are surrounded by gorgeous rose gardens, quiet green valleys and fine orchards.

Athanavur, the main town of the hill station, has a breathtaking winding road that takes one all through the hills with several isolated villages. The hill station of Yelagiri was originally a privately-held property of the Yelagiri Zamindar family. It was brought under the Government of India in the 1950s. One can still witness the ancestral house of the Zamindars in the small village of Reddiyur in the Yelagiri hills.

If you love trekking, Swamimalai Hill, located at an altitude of 4338ft, is just the place for you. Considered the highest point in the hill station, the Swamimalai Hill lends a panoramic view of the hills. The hills are no short of long and incessant trekking trails through dense reserved forests. Other trekking spots that add to the attraction include Palamathi hills and Javadi Hills, though not as high as the Swamimalai. The Punganur Lake, like the famous Ooty Lake, is an artificially constructed lake with boating and spectacular view of the valleys. Paragliding is another adventure sport that is slowly catching up with the tourists in this region. Once you’re in Yelagiri make sure you don’t miss out on the Jalagamparai Waterfalls, the Velavan Temple and Nature Park —you, for sure, will never be disappointed.

The popular Yelagiri Summer festival is an annual event organized with great fanfare by the Tamilnadu Tourism Development during the month of May. The flower show here is a dazzling exhibit of pretty intricate gardening and design.  The dog show is a visual treat for dog lovers. The various cultural programs highlight the indigenous culture and age-long tradition of the hill station and its people. Tourists from every nook and corner of the state and other parts of India flock to see the fascinating Summer festival.  The recommended time to visit this hill station, endowed with absolute beauty, is between November and February.

Facts you need to know about the Buddha Statue at Hussain Sagar in Hyderabad

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Do you know that the Hussain sagar Buddha statue is the tallest monolithic state of Sidddharta, also known as Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism.  The statue situated at the famous Lumbini Park in the Hussain Sagar Island can only be reached by boat. The Buddha Statue at Hussain Sagar in Hyderabad is an engineering marvel in that it is raised on a concrete platform, 15 feet tall, right in the middle of the lake. Dubbed as the “Rock of Gibraltar”, the statue was erected in the middle of Lake Hussain Sagar with tremendous efforts.  The city roads were widened for the construction of the statue.

The statue was raised by N.T.Rama Rao, who was the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh between 1983 and 1989 at that time. He was inspired by the idea of ‘Statue of Liberty’ and wanted to accomplish a similar feet back home. What motivated him further is that it would stand the test of times as true representation of Indian culture, heritage and unity. Lord Buddha became the ideal candidate for the mission.

Right from the beginning it was decided that the state would be made out of stone. After strenuous efforts, a solid white granite stone unearthed near Nalgonda on a mountainside that is 40 miles outside the city of Hyderabad. It took a year for the project completion and the statue was finally unveiled in October 1985 by N.T.Rama Rao.

Temple architect and builder Ganapathi Sthapati with hundreds of workers worked on the statue. After five years of work, with a spend of about US$3 million, the stand stands tall at 58 feet (18m) and weighs 350 tons. This makes it the tallest monolithic Buddha. statue in the world.

Unfortunately, the N. T. Rama Rao led Andhra Pradesh Government was expelled in 1989 and the stone statue was kept waiting to be erected on the concrete platform until 1990. The statue was to be moved to the shore of Hussain Sagar by a trailer vehicle, the responsibility of which was given to a local company. But tragedy befell when the statue tipped suddenly due to a mishap and killed 10 engineers involved in the construction.

Efforts to move the statue out of Hussain Sagar lake persisted. The statue finally was erected on the platform successfully on 1 December 1992. The plan earlier was to enable the statue stand in the middle of the lake, but engineering hurdles stood in the way, as the statue today stands slightly closer to the NTR Memorial Gardens. In 2006, the Dalai Lama paid visit to the statue and consecrated it following a ritual which lent the place the status of a holy pilgrimage site.

 

 

 

 

 

 

All about the famous Thaipusam procession in Singapore

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Singapore is a land of high secular values; while you are in the “Lion City”, watching the famous Hindu “Thaipusam” procession is a truly spectacular mind-boggling, jaw dropping experience. As many as 40,000 people attend this annual colourful procession that comes along with compelling rituals, and normally falls during the full moon in the tenth month of the Tamil calendar – Thai (mid-January to mid-February in the English calendar).

travel agency packagesThe procession that begins in the morning on Thaipusam day has devotees walking all the way from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple, located in Serangoon Road to Sri Thendayuthapani Temple located in Tank Road, which is about 3km away. Some lanes are cordoned to manage traffic during the procession.

This year saw some 10,000 devotees holding milk pots, symbolising fertility and abundance in Hinduism, and 250 “Kavadi” (“Burden Dance” for Tamil) bearers. The devotees spend the entire month before Thaipusam in religious spiritual preparation with a rigid vegetarian diet.

In the annual festival, organised by the two temples and the Hindu Endowments Board, Lord Subramanian, also known as Lord Murugan, the powerful Tamil God, is worshipped with utmost reverence, piety and devotion by devotees. Lord Murugan, according to mythological sources, represents youth, virtue and power, and is the annihilator of evil and dark forces. Devotees fulfil their vows and seek blessings of Lord Murugan by carrying pots as kavadis or offerings in the two-day long festival. Hundreds of volunteers join in to help manage the huge procession.

It is a heart-warming sight to see thousands of people cutting religious, cultural and communal barriers come together to witness this important celebration. It helps people remain intact and rooted both in a religious as well cultural context. The Thaipusam procession, over the years, has been a great way to establish multi-racial and religious interface that helps close gaps and deepen mutual understanding.

Quick facts & figures of Burj Khalifa in Dubai

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The Burj Khalifa in Dubai is an engineering marvel—an unparalleled combination of solid science and visionary ideals. The breathtaking structure stands really tall in terms of facts, numbers, figures and stats. Here are a few of them that will make your head spin even without your having to stand on top of Burj Dubai:

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The Burj Khalifa stands as high as 828 metres (2,716.5 feet) with more than 160 stories that puts it straight into the record books:

  • World’s tallest building
  • World’s tallest free-standing structure
  • Structure with the most occupied floor in the world
  • Structure having the world’s highest outdoor observation
  • Elevator having the longest travel distance in the world
  • World’s tallest service elevator

Tallest of the super-tall structures in the world:

The Burj Khalifa not only holds the unassailable record as the world’s tallest building, but it has also broken two other long-standing records: tallest free-standing structure, formerly held by Toronto’s CN Towers and tallest structure formerly held by KVLY-TV mast in Blanchard, Blanchard, Traill County, North Dakota, United States.

The Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) has formed 3 criteria (discussed below) that decide what makes a tall structure really tall. Burj Khalifa has clearly come out on top in all three categories:

Height to architectural top:

Measurement of height is carried out from the level of “the lowest, significant open-air pedestrian entrance” to a building’s architectural top. This incorporates spires, but does not take in flagpole, signage, antennae or other functional-technical tools or equipment. This measurement is the most common method and is deployed to define the CTBUH’s rankings of the tallest buildings in the world.

Highest occupied floor:

Measurement of height is carried out from the level of the lowest, significant, open-air pedestrian entrance to the highest occupied floor inside the building structure, leaving out the maintenance areas.

Height to tip

Measurement of height is carried out from the level of the lowest, significant, open-air, pedestrian entrance to the building’s highest point, regardless of function of the highest element or material. This takes in signage, flagpoles, antennae and other functional-technical tools or equipment.

 

All about the Dambulla cave temple in Srilanka

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If you are in Srilanka (formerly Ceylon), the Land of Buddha as it is known, Dambulla Cave Temple is one place you shouldn’t miss no matter what. This ancient temple contains a series of five pre-historic caves and 157 statues of Lord Buddha in total. The several exquisite paintings on the walls and ceilings of the temple are a reflection of the popular Buddhist religious art of the olden era.

travel agency packagesThe history of the awe-inspiring caves, temple and rock dates right back to the 1st century BC. It’s not just the statues in the caves that could fascinate one, but also the several delicate and sinuous paintings on the ceiling and walls, produced with indigenous traditional paints.

The rich ancient history, archaeological significance and culturally artistic values of the temple were recognized by the UNESCO as a World Heritage site in 1991. The temple has stood the test of times for over twenty two centuries and never fallen shy of reverence, adoration and spirituality. Visitors may need to use the steps leading to the top of the rock for a panoramic view of the temple which is as awe-inspiring as its stunning interior.

It is thought to have been the home to pre-historic Srilankans as several burial sites were excavated in the past that are believed to be at least 2700 years old. However, it gained significance only after the rise of Buddhism in the Island nation. It is traditionally believed that the caves were converted into a permanent temple by Valagamba of Anuradhapura who went into exile from there at the time; he was then accepted as a refugee by South Indian usurpers. He spent the next fifteen years into hiding within the caves before successfully reclaiming his kingdom: he wanted to thank the gods and built the temple where he had sought refuge for years.

The numerable artefacts and statues that one can find inside the Dambulla is a true reflection of the artistic talents of the Buddhist era in Srilanka. A visit to the cave and a walk through it is worth every cent and an awesome day out.

 

All you wanted to know about the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondichery

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The Sri Aurobindo Ashram was formed in 1926 under Mirra Alfassa, popularly called by her followers as ‘The Mother’. The Ashram has progressed fast and steady under her inspired guidance from a small circle to two dozen followers into a widely followed diversified spiritual community with about 1200 members that includes about 400 pupils of the Centre of Education and the hundreds of devotees who reside nearby the Ashram, though the larger ashram community boasts of more than 2000 members.

Tour operators in coimbatoreNestled in a buzzing and bustling city of over 7, 00,000 people, the Ashram has never been a place known for tranquillity or relaxation, but a throbbing and pulsating centre of life set on the backdrop of a modern urban scene. This aspect is a reflection of Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy as his steadfast obeisance to the divine forms the core of the Yoga and all Ashramites are required to contribute positively by working productively everyday for the welfare of the community.

The best part about the Ashram is the sadhana or the spiritual discipline at the mind level as there are no needless rituals, no obligatory practises, no mandatory meditations or ‘by the book’ practises in Yoga. Sadhaks are left free to choose whatever that suits their pace and taste of learning. But the general principle of the Sadhana remains intact: one must surrender to the Divine and an opening to the Divine Force at work so that it may turn one into a spiritually and emotionally strong being.

Travel to the eastern part of Pondicherry to visit the Ashram, where the community members live and work in harmony in beautiful old and new buildings side by side in a sprawling area. The community life is focussed on the main building of the Ashram, usually known as “the Ashram”, with block after block of houses in which the Sri Aurobindo and the Mother spend major part of their lives.

At its centre, you can find a white-marble Samadhi (shrine) in a tree-shaded courtyard where the bodies rest in total peace. The members of the Ashram are provided with a healthy and decent life with excellent food, comfortable shelter, necessary clothing and essential medical care. The Ashram, managed by the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, also houses a fine library for study and various other facilities for a variety of cultural pursuits.

All you want to know about the Rock Fort Temple City at Trichy in Tamilnadu

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Tiruchirappalli (also called Trichy) is the fourth largest city in the state of Tamilnadu. Trichy is located at the heart of the state on the southern banks of the river Cauvery. Though there are several attractions in and around the city that tourists can afford to spend some time, the Tiruchirapalli Rock Fort, a historic fort and temple complex raised on an ancient rock, is the most popular tourist destination, often an integral part of the tour itinerary of the city. It is raised on a 273-foot high rock. You can find two Hindu temples inside the complex: the Shiva Temple and the Uchchi Pillaiyar Koil Temple.

Trichy Rock ForteGeologically, the high rock may be over one billion years old. There are other tourist attractions within the temple complex including the famous Nayaka-era fort and the Ganesha temple of the Pallava era. The fort was the scene of bloody battles between Madurai Nayakas, who used it as a military fort, and Carnatic, Bijapur and Maratha empires. The fort also turned the tides in favour of the British in India during the Carnatic wars, fought between many Indian rulers and British and French East India Company on either side.

The Thayumanavar Temple is located in the Rockfort complex close to the base of it and was built by the great Pallava king Mahendravarman I in the 6th century AD. The main deity of the temple is Lord Shiva symbolized by the lingam and is worshiped as Thayumanavar. Mattuvar Kuzhalammai represents Shiva’s consort Parvati. The presiding deity is eulogized in the “Tevaram”, the Tamil Saiva canonical work compiled by the Nayanars, the tamil saint poets belonging to the 7th century.

On the eastern side is the Ucchi Pillayar koil, a Hindu temple of the 7th century, is dedicated to Lord Ganesha who was born to Lord Shiva and Parvati. It is situated on the top of Rockfort. Legend has it that Lord Ganesha ran from King Vibishana in this place, after setting up the Ranganathaswamy deity in Srirangam.

The temple houses a large-sized Ganesha and other rare deities and is host to the annual Vinayaka (Ganesha) Chathurthi festival. Devotees take great delight in listening to the classical musical concerts performed by several legendary Tamil Carnatic musicians in the temple, a tradition that has been in practise for over 70 years.

You can also witness the “Pallava Caves” constructed by the famous Pallava rulers during 580AD on the southern face of the Rockfort. One needs to climb 344 stone steps that are carved inside the rock from its entrance and over the rock near the top so as to reach the rock temple.

 

 

 

 

Ideas on how to play winter sports on your family tour

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A happy family stay together, but the happiest family is one that tours and plays together and makes the most of it. It is the togetherness which binds the family together — strong and intact. But do the winters play spoilsport to your family tour and outdoor activities. Don’t be upset and take it in your stride. Every setback has its positives, and therefore, don’t let the season rob off the fun factor. Winter sports are meant for the whole family.  Here are some ideas that will make you a better player, of course, with your family on tour and especially, when it’s snowing hard and heavy.

ice-skatingPlanning:

Research and planning is the key. Ensure you go for a resort with a good ski school and nursery slope for the kids, but just enough to keep you in the mood too. Make sure you book early as possible as good ski schools are pretty much limited and get booked up early. Make sure you are in good shape before the holiday. Start working on your body’s fitness levels and agility before the start of the holiday season. Remember to check if your required equipment is working just fine.

Out & About:

It is a must that kids should be offered plenty of sun protection on their face to protect themselves from the harmful effects of the sun’s rays such as sun burn and UV goggles. You must check the rules on helmets; it is mandatory for children to wear helmets when playing or skidding on the icy slopes. You need to think about the different options you can come up to keep the kids engaged such as husky sledding or ice skating.

Just in Case:

Teach yourself and your kids ski etiquette and rules of conduct to stay away from unnecessary accidents and mishaps. It is recommended to invest in a winter sports travel insurance to protect your family, trip and equipments against any possible accidents and potential disasters. It’s important for kids to get trained on how to cope with emergency or crisis situations, example just in case you get separated in a crowd. Having an EHIC for every member of your family, when travelling in Europe, comes as an advantage in case you require medical treatment.

Winters doesn’t mean putting things in cold storage, especially family tours, sports and outdoor activities. Winters not only presents some unique challenges, but also every reason to travel outdoors and get going with the whole family. With the thermometer dropping, the festive spirit and fervour may well embrace the adventure in you!

 

Best Places to Visit in Madurai – Part 2

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Let’s move along with our previous post on some of the must-visit places in one of Tamilnadu’s most bustling cities–Madurai. Here are a few places you can add to your travel bucket:

6.  Thiruparankundram Dargah (also, Sulthan Sikandhar Badhusha Shaheed shrine):

The Thiruparankundram Dargah is located at the top of the Thirupparamkundram hill. Housing the grave of the Islamic saint Sultan Sikandhar Badushah shaheed, this shrine is frequented by people of all religious faiths and stands as a symbol of inter-faith harmony, secular and pluralistic values. Devotees gather in large numbers during the annual Urs (anniversary ) festival to pay their respect to the great Sufi saint.

7. Gandhi Memorial Museum:

Situated across the famous Vaigai River and tucked in the Summer Palace of Nayak queen Rani Mangammal, is the Gandhi Memorial Museum, one of the seven museum galleries dedicated to the ‘father of the nation’ Gandhiji. It has some of the rarest collections of Bapuji such as the spectacles, shawl and the bloodstained dhoti (loincloth) worn by him at the time he was shot dead in 1948. Gandhi turned to wearing the dhoti only on his visit to Madurai in 1921 and termed it “national pride”. Don’t miss out on the Madurai Government Museum located within the same campus.

Koodal Azhagar Temple

8.  Koodal Azhagar Temple:

This is another famous temple in Madurai dedicated to Lord Vishnu and is one of the 108 Divya Desams, the holy shrines of Vishnu. Located near the Meenakshi Amman Temple, this temple holds significance as much as the Thirupallandu. According to legend, the great Tamil poet Periyalwar sung the first 12 verses of the 4000 Divyaprabadam eulogizing the Hindu deity Azhagar. The lord was so pleased that he appeared in the form of ‘Koodal Azhagar’. Koodal is also the ancient name of the city.

9. Vandiyur Mariamman Teppakulam:

The Vandiyur Mariamman Teppakulam is a huge square water tank spread over a sprawling 16-acre land. Constructed in 1646 by Thirumalai Nayak, this tank is situated 5km east of the Meenakshi Temple. In the middle of the tank is placed an idol of Lord Vinayaka or Vignesh resting on a platform. Legend has it that this place was unearthed when the earth was excavated to make bricks for building the Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal. The place was turned into a temple tank and was dedicated to Lord Ganesh, one of the supreme deities of the Hindu religion. The annual “Teppakulam Float Festival” takes place here with great fanfare and celebrations, during the months of January and February.  It is said that the water from River Vaigai flows into the largest temple tank in the state.

10. Azhagar Kovil Temple:

Situated at a distance of 21km from the city, Alagar Koyil Temple (or Alagar Kovil), dedicated to Lord Vishnu holds a lot of religious significance. Nestled in the foothills of the Azhagar (Alagar hills), the temple features an enthralling architecture; even more mesmerizing is the natural setting encircling this temple. The main deity the temple is Lord Paramaswamy, with the processional idol being Lord Alagar or Sundararajan, considered to be the brother of Goddess Meenakshi. The Kalyana Sundaravalli, the consort of Lord Alagar, has a separate shrine enclosed within the temple complex. You can also find separate shrines for deities Yoga Narasimha, Sudarshana and Andal.

Though built by the Pandyas, the temple known for its intricate sculpting, detailing and mandapams, was later renovated by the Nayak rulers. Many Theerthams are located nearby including the “Noopura Ganga”, believed to have descended directly from the heavens.

Madurai is just not about temples, it is also famous for its wholesale banana market, Murugan Idli Shop, Vilachery Pottery Village, Keelakuyilkudi and Samanar Hills and many more attractions that will bring out the complete ‘traveler’ in you. So if you come down south, Madurai is the place for you to refresh your spiritual as well as your nocturnal quotient as this city never sleeps at night!

Best Places to Visit in Madurai – Part 1

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Madurai, the land of the glorious Tamil Pandya Kingdom, is the second largest city in Tamilnadu. This almost 3500-year old city is one of the state’s major destinations, and has remained since the cradle of Tamil civilization and culture, and the seat of learning. Often dubbed as the “Athens of the East”, Madurai resembles the ancient city in architectural style such as its many alleyways.  When the famous Nayaks ruled the city, several outstanding buildings and temples were constructed that still attract tourists and pilgrims in large numbers.  In a two-part series, we will bring you some of the must-see places in this ancient Tamil city.

madurai meenakshi temple

1. Meenakshi Temple:

There is no point in touring the city if you miss out on visiting the Meenakshi Temple, the cynosure of the city. The temple, apparently, was built around the Shiva Linga that you can find inside its sanctum.  The sacred temple is built in an area of 15 acres and comprises 4500 pillars and 12 majestic towers standing tall.  One of the most frequented temples in South India; you will have no problems even spending days inside the sanctum. You can also find Hindu couples gathered in large numbers, during auspicious days, to get married in the temple’s corridor. No wonder, it’s worth visiting the temple once in the morning and again for the night rituals in the evening.

2. Puthu Mandapam:

Feel free to venture inside the capacious Puthu Mandapam, pillared entrance hill that stands opposite the Meenakshi Temple. Built in the 17th century, this hall today is the lifeline of several tailors and small stalls selling scarves, fabric, designer jewellery, fashion accessories, art work and handicrafts. You can get the aforementioned stuffs and more at good discount prices and offers. You can also check good quality clothes, including near replicas.

3. Tirumalai Nayak Palace:

Located about a kilometre south-east of Meenakshi Temple is the renowned Tirumalai Nayak Palace constructed in 1636 by the famous Nayak ruler King Thirumalai Nayak. Considered as the city’s second major attraction, the palace is based on the Indo-Sarcenic style with an Italian architect helping in its design and construction. It was the King’s residential palace before leaving it open for public view. It seems like only a part of the original structure comprising the courtyard, entrance hall, audience hall and dance hall remains intact today. The structure saw some major renovation works with the Government recently spending substantial money on it.

4. Saint Mary’s Cathedral:

The Saint Mary’s Cathedral is one of the oldest Roman Catholic (RC) churches that was constructed in the year 1840. Situated on East Veli Street, the structure took its present form in 1916 with its architecture including two tall bell towers, and is a fusion of several Continental and European building styles.

5. Thiruparankundram:

If you think you still have some time left for strolling along Madurai, then you shouldn’t miss out Thiruparankundram, about 20 minutes south-west of the city. Thiruparankundram houses another ancient temple that is dedicated to one of Hindu religion’s supreme deities Lord Murugan (son of Lord Shiva in Hindu mythology), venerated as a Tamil God. On the hill top of Thiruparankundram, you can find a 14th century-old Islamic shrine (or Dargah) of the sufi saint Hazrat Sultan Sikandhar Badhusha.  We will be covering more about this shrine and few other attractions of the city in the concluding part-series of the article. Until then, it’s happy travel time from us!