Sunday, 17 February 2019

For the love of Flamingos

I have never been a keen bird- watcher. When I do get a chance I never miss an opportunity to capture theme in my camera.
As an exception, I always wanted to watch Pink Flamingos in their natural habitat.
Never had I thought I would see one, other than in a bird sanctuary, than I had stumbled upon an Instagram feed that posted pictures of Greater Flamingos that had migrated from the land of Kutch to one of the driest cities in North Karnataka- Raichur.
Hard to believe but many lakes and tanks located in the outskirts of Raichur get numerous species of migratory birds between the months of November to April/May.
Greater Flamingos an be spotted between January to May after which they go back to Kutch for breeding.

Fields on the way to Raichur...

First glimpse of the lake

One such lake in the outskirts of Raichur (between Raichur- Hyderabad highway) is the Manchalapura Lake in the village of Manchalapura.
Though our Google road map pointed towards the village, even before we could reach our destination we (my best partners in all trips- hubby and daughter) spotted the pink beauties (not all were pink though) and realized that no other spot could be as closer as the place we were in. In an instant we were out of the car and were walking through dried up part of the lake.

After few minutes we were on our senses to realize not all parts where we were walking was dry. At places it was still swampy. We had suddenly stopped walking as we were unsure of the water levels. It was nicely camouflaged under the grass. We finally stationed ourselves at a safe spot from where we could enjoy the flock of flamingos.


A closer look of the Flamingos

It was not a surprise why these birds could have chosen the lake as their home for few months. Not a single soul to be seen around the lake! We three were the only insane people who had driven 200 kms just to get glimpse of these birds.

Black-winged Stilt

Black Drongo

After spending more than an hour near the lake, we headed towards the actual Manchalapura village hoping to find more birds. But it was a vain effort as it was difficult to get near the lake through that route. As usual, our hungry stomachs had started rumbling pushing towards a local restaurant- Halli Oota that served authentic Jowari rotis and North Karnataka styled pooran polis. Gorging on the scrumptious food we had headed back to Hyderabad finding on the way few more varieties of birds, tasted some very sweet local watermelons and a palm tree full of weaver bird nests.

Green Bee-Eater

Interesting interiors of the Halli Oota Restaurant

Weaver bird nests

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Daulatabad Fort

Daulatabad, once known as Devagiri or Deogiri is located at around 15 kms from the city of Aurangabad. It lies on the way to the famous Ellora caves. Driving through the foot of the fort to Ellora caves, we had made a mental note to visit that place on our way back.

However, the delay in arrival to the fort in the evening and our tiredness (after much walking exploring Ellora caves) had left us with little enthusiasm to explore the fort that was considered as an 'invincible fort' in earlier days. Nevertheless, we had decided to visit the place. 

The topmost part of fort seen on our way to Ellor caves...

Rising above a conical shaped hill at a height of about 600 feet, this 'Hill of Gods' was built by Bhillama V of the Yadava dynasty in 1187. The hill is shaped like a smooth tortoise's back. In 14th century Muhammad Bin Tugluq of Delhi Sultanate renamed it as Daulatabad (abode of wealth) and shifted the entire capital from Delhi to Daulatabad. Ironically, his administration failed miserably due to shortage of water and various other reasons and lost his wealth. He thus re- shifted the entire population to Delhi which gained him the title of a 'mad king'.

We had reached the entrance of the fort almost during closing time which had left us with little time to trek through the entire fort and reach the top. Thus, we had walked past through many important spots without stopping much or stopping just to click a few pictures and not going through the history part of it.

Canons placed at the entrance...

Walkway leading to Chand Minar and other parts of the fort...

The fort has only one entrance/ exit. This was done deliberately to confuse the enemy soldiers. The wooden entrance gate is studded with pointed spikes to wound the elephants that the enemies used to break open the gates. As we had entered the main gate, we had come across a vast courtyard that housed several canons of different sizes. Walking past few watchtowers and curved paths, we reached a stoned path which reminded us of the Golconda fort in Hyderabad. This is where the famous Chand Minar of the fort became visible.

Chand Minar was built by Bahamani king Hasan Gangu Bahamani, also known as Alauddin Bahaman Shah in 1358. He built the Chand Minar as a replica of the Qutb Minar in Delhi. He employed architects from Iran who used Lapis Lazuli and Red Ochre to colour the Minar. As we had passed through various passages to reach the top of the hill, we had realized that Chand Minar was visible from almost all corners and directions.

Another view of Chand Minar...

Chini Mahal...

Menda Canon...

A move through some more passages had led us to Chini Mahal, the royal prison built by Aurangzeb. Abul Hasan Tana Shah of Qutb Shahi dynasty of Hyderabad was kept as a prisoner in this royal prison. At a later period Shivaji's son Sambhaji maharaj too was kept in the same prison. A massive canon called the Menda Canon made of metal sits above Chini Mahal with Aurangzeb's name inscribed on it. 

Though the number of visitors to the fort were limited during that hour, many of them present were local youths simply vandalizing and throwing plastic bottles into the trench that lay ahead of Chini Mahal. An elderly couple who were the guards were trying relentlessly to stop them from dirtying the place. The wide trench that led to the top most part of the fort had to be crossed over by an iron bridge (it was made of leather in earlier days). The moat would be filled with water and crocodiles were left in the water to act as barriers to enemy attacks. The end of bridge would lead one to Bhool Bhulaiya or the Maze. A descend of small steps was built to look like a tunnel leading towards passageways to confuse the enemy soldiers. The pathways has windows where the soldiers hid themselves and poured hot oil to attack the enemies. 

Trench below the bridge...

We did not reach up to the top point i.e. Baradari as time did not permit us. We had skipped the Bharat Mata temple and few other important parts as well. Heading back, we were fortunate to witness the setting sun against the Chand Minar indicating a perfect end for the day. 

Friday, 7 December 2018

Ellora caves- Part I

It seemed too unusual for us to take a trip during the monsoon. With unsure minds, with flood alerts transmitted throughout South India,  we had booked our tickets to Aurangabad. Once there, we were glad to learn that the weather was clear since the previous day and it was a perfect day to explore the elaborate caves at Ellora or Verul Veni (known locally).

Ellora was about 30 kms from Aurangabad city and we had passed through the foot of Daulatabad Fort on our way. We had reached the caves quite early to avoid the crowd of late hours. Though we had read about the place beforehand, it was quite unimaginable to comprehend the vastness of the carved beauties until we entered the entrance gate. And, we were welcomed by one of the celebrated structures among other caves, the Kailasa Temple. This blog post purely speaks about the caves that are dedicated to Hindu Gods (just to avoid a lengthy blog post).

Monsoon views...

First glimpse of the Kailasa temple at the entrance


Out of all the 34 caves present in the complex (Cave 1 to 12 Buddhist, Cave 13 to 29 Brahmanical and Cave 30 to 34 belonging to Jainism) dating back from 6th century A. D to 11th century A.D., the Kailasa temple stands as the epitome of all the other caves carved out during that era. According to a Marathi legend, in the 8th century, the queen of Rashtrakuta king Elu suffered from a severe disease. His wife prayed Shiva and made a vow to build a temple if her wish was granted. When the king was cured, she declared that she would not eat till a magnificent temple was built to Lord Shiva and was able to see its' 'Shikara'. When many architects refused to build the temple in such short notice, the king finally found an architect name Kokasa from Paithan who took the task of completing the temple. He assured the queen that she would see the Shikara in a weeks' time. He cleverly started carving out the temple from top so that the queen could see the top most Shikara first. Thus, he completed the Shikara in a week, helping the queen end her fast.

Shrine depicting the river Goddesses- Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswathi

Pillars around the rectangular trench...

It is estimated that over 200,000 tons of basalt rock was chiseled out over a period of two and half decades to build this magnificent 276 feet deep temple. Scenes from Ramayana and Mahabharata are intricately carved on the north and south plinths of the temple. In the courtyard there are free standing 'dhwajasthambhas' and elephants. A pillared chamber in the north-western direction houses a shrine dedicated to river Goddesses- Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswathi. The rectangular trench round the temple with numerous pillars on all sides and life- size carvings of various Hindu deities kept us busy for more than an hour.

View from the first- story of the temple...

We then moved towards other caves in descending order while enjoying the fresh growth of green plants all around because of the rains. The simple facade of cave no. 15 did not appeal us. When were just deciding to head back, we were stopped by a local guide who lead us to the double- storyed part of the temple that lay hidden behind the temple. A small flight of steps lead us to a spacious hall with square pillars and life-size carvings from Dasavatar on the wall. The hall was very dimly lighted and we had wished that the ASI had spent some effort in lighting up the area just like in Ajanta (a difference that we noticed in maintenance the next day).

The next important cave we visited was cave no. 12. That being a Buddhist monastery, I will write a separate post on it. To reach the other Hindu temples, we got on to the bus service available within the complex. We were quite famished by that time as we had not carried any eatables and except a MTDC canteen at the entrance there is nothing inside that we could find to replenish ourselves. The bus stopped near the Jain caves so we visited the Jain caves before heading to cave no 29. We had to walk quite a bit to reach the cave. But we were welcomed by a refreshing view just outside the cave. 
By the side of the cave 'Sita-ki-nahani', is a pool created by the Elaganga river. Due to the monsoons, the pool was being filled by a waterfall just above the cliffs. Spending some time enjoying the view, we entered the cave.

View outside cave no. 29

Pillars inside the cave...

Inner sanctum with 'dwarapalakas'

Known as Dumer Lena, the whole cave is supported by 26 cushion-like pillars. It is a huge cave again with life-size sculptures on the walls. Unique scenes of Shiva and Parvathi's wedding and both of them playing a dice game can be witnessed here. The inner sanctum has entrances from all four directions. Massive 'dwarapalakas' guard the entrances with female attendants. The cave also has sculptures depicting Ravana shaking the Kailasa mountain and Shiva killing the demon 'Andhaka'. 

Ravana shaking the Kailasa mountain...

Shiva killing Andhaka...

River Goddess Ganga...

With ever-growing hunger pangs in our tummies, we had decided to head back without completely visiting all the Hindu caves. The most important cave that we missed was cave no. 21 and view of Kailasa temple from top of the cliff for which we did not have the energy. 

For the love of Flamingos

I have never been a keen bird- watcher. When I do get a chance I never miss an opportunity to capture theme in my camera. As an exception,...