Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Rishikesh - White Water Rafting

Rishikesh is famous for its white water rafting down the Ganges.  We decided we'd give it a go! Although I was very nervous and for several rapids I stowed my paddle in the middle of the raft and simply clung onto the ropes along the side, after a while (when I realised that people were not falling out and the boats were not capsizing) I did manage to paddle through the final few.  It was good fun, and the scenery was lovely.  I didn't go into the water - and I heard it was freezing.  In total I think we paddled around 20 km.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Rishikesh - The Beatles Ashram

Another day in Rishikesh we walked along the river and through some of the big ashrams, and went in search of the Beatle's Ashram (actually called Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's ashram).  The Beatles came here in 1968 to attend transcendental meditation training here.  

Aparently their visit was one of the band's most productive periods, and also led to a change in Western attitudes about Indian spirituality and the study of Transcendental Meditation.  Along with their wives, girlfriends, assistants and numerous reporters, the Beatles arrived in India in February 1968 and joined the group of 60 people who were training to be TM teachers. While there the Beatles wrote many songs that they later recorded on The White Album and Abbey Road.

It was quite an eerie place - completely deserted now and in ruins.  We wandered around the grounds and looked at the places where the Beatles and others had lived.  All in all it was quite amazing.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Rocking Around Rishikesh

For our Spring Break, Lex and I went to Rishikesh.  Rishikesh is a town in India’s northern state of Uttarakhand, in the Himalayan foothills beside the Ganges River. The river is considered holy, and the city is renowned as a centre for studying yoga and meditation. Temples and ashrams line the river banks.  

We arrived at the end of the International Yoga Festival, which has been taking place in Rishikesh since 1989.  Yoga teachers, students and seekers come from every corner of the globe to participate in this program. There were certainly a lot of them around, including Mooji.

While I was in Rishikesh I decided to explore some yoga and meditation apps on my iPhone.  I did the "Fear of Flying" one on the way there, and then regularly stopped to do other mindfulness meditations in and around the town.  One day we hiked up to a waterfall where I did an outdoor meditation.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Hanging out in Hyderabad - Lunch at the Falaknuma Palace

Last year our friends Jan and Paul came to stay - and after 10 weeks of touring around southern India they announced that Hyderabad was their favourite place of all - it was quite a surprise to me - until I went to the Falaknuma Palace (where they stayed) and could see why.

The palace was at one time owned by the Nizams of Hyderabad.   It was built by one of the Prime Ministers and the name Falak-numa means "like the sky" or "mirror of the sky" in Urdu.  The palace is built in the shape of a scorpion, with 2 wings (representing the stings) extending out from the main part.  It's difficult to see them in this photo as they are on the sides and I couldn't get far back enough to photograph the whole building.  The architecture is a blend of Italian and Tudor.

We phoned ahead to book for lunch, but even so it was difficult.  We were told they did not take "walk-ins" and that they were fully booked.  However during the whole time there we only saw one other couple in the dining room!  It really is a beautiful place though!

The photo above is not of the palace - it's the gateway into the palace.  From here you have to take either a golf cart of a horse-drawn carriage up to the actual palace.  

The palace must have hosted many important guests during its history, however since the 1950s it was mostly kept closed until around 2000 when it was given on lease to the Taj group of hotels who undertook a 10 year restoration programme to restore it to its original grandeur.  The restoration was led by Princess Esra Jah, the first wife of the 8th Nizam of Hyderabad whom he apparently divorced when she did not want to move to Australia with him.

The palace is really amazing and has a famous dining room (not the one we used) with a huge table that can seat 100 guests - it's considered the largest in the world. There is also a library which is a replica of the one in Windsor Castle.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Hanging Out in Hyderabad - the Birla Mandir, Lumbini Park and the Buddha Statue

Saturday afternoon in Hyderabad was spent at the Salar Jung museum.  It has a huge collection of sculptures, paintings, textiles, ceramics, clocks, carpets and so on from Japan, China, Burma, Nepal, India, Persia, Europe and North America.  It was all collected by Salar Jung III and is the biggest one-man collections of antiques in the world.

After the museum we went to the Birla Mandir, a Hindu temple built on a hill.  It was very beautiful and had a great view out over the lake.  It was built in 1976.

From the Birla Mandir we walked down through Lumbini Park to the Hussain Sagar lake and took a ferry out to the Buddha Statue in the middle of the lake.  Hundreds of labourers took over a year to create this enormous statue, which is the world's tallest monolithic statue of Buddha.  The cost of constructing is was around 3 million US dollars.  The statue was supposed to be erected in the lake in 1990, but an accident on the barge meant it tipped and fell into the lake, killing 10 people.  It was finally pulled out of the lake and erected 2 years later.

Hanging Out in Hyderabad - Chowmahalla Palace

On our second day in Hyderabad we went to the Chowmahalla Palace in the morning.  In Persian chahar means four and in Arabic mahal mean palace  so it's a place of 4 palaces.  It is believed to have been modelled on the Shah of Iran's palace in Tehran, and was the palace of the Nizams of Hyderabad while they ruled the state.  The palace is still owned by their heirs - who now live in Australia.

The Khilwat Mubarak is the heart of the palace.  There is a grand pillared Durbar Hall with a marble platform for the royal seat.  This is the place where religious and other symbolic ceremonies took place.  Throughout this hall there are chandeliers of Belgian crystal.

Outside this is the clock tower above the main gate.  It's known as the Khilwat Clock and has been ticking away for more than 250 years.  A local family of clock repairers winds the clock every week. 

Friday, March 4, 2016

Hanging Out in Hyderabad - the Charminar, bangles, perfumes and pearls

Our final stop for the day was the Charminar, right in the old part of Hyderabad.  It was constructed in 1591 as both a monument and a mosque.  It's one of the most recognized structures of India.  It was built to commemorate the eradication of the plague and the start of the second Islamic millennium year - in fact the city of Hyderabad itself was founded by Qutb Shah to celebrate this millennium.

Around the Charminar there are many shopping streets - the most famous things to buy here are pearls, bangles and perfumes (I bought some of each).

Hanging Out in Hyderabad - Qutb Shahi Tombs

After spending time at the Fort, we took a short ride out to the Qutb Shahi Tombs.  There are 72 monuments in this heritage park, which are now being renovated by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture - this renovation is expected to take around 10 years.  

The tombs are domed structures that are built on a square raised platform.  The architectural style is a blend of Persian, Pashtun and Hindu, with intricately carved stonework.  At one time the tombs were furnished with carpets, chandeliers and velvet canopies.  Copies of the Koran were kept on pedestals and readers recited verses at regular intervals.  Golden spires were fitted over the tombs of the sultans to distinguish them from those of other royals.

The restoration work so far has removed modern material like cement, and the original features are being restored with traditional materials.  Some of the Persian tiles have been revealed as part of this process.  

Tomb of Sultan Quli Qutb Shah

Hanging Out in Hyderabad - Golconda Fort

I went for a long weekend to Hyderabad with Jenni.  While it's now a booming cyber-city, it has a very long history and that was what we were mostly concerned with.

On the morning of our first day in Hyderabad we went to the Golconda Fort, which was once the capital of the medieval sultanate of the Qutb Shahi dynasty.  The fort area is huge.  It's full of pavillions, gates, entrances, mosques and domes.  

The fort used to have a vault where the Koh-i-Noor diamond was stored, along with other diamonds.