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Cultural Practices of India

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.

In traditional Hindu homes throughout the country of India, an ancient ritual
to invoke the producing of a male child is still performed over pregnant women.
In a society where it appears women are starting to make strides, it is still
evident that they are considered second-class citizens.

Manners are Essential

When visiting a country where customs are vastly different than what you are
accustomed to, it is always a wise decision to make a note of them, especially
those customs dealing with age-old beliefs. We will cover here a few of the
basics you should be aware of when visiting India.

Indians, whether Hindu, Muslim or Buddhist, have a strong code of conduct and
are polite when addressing strangers. Long train and bus journeys are often
punctuated with inquisitive grillings by fellow travelers.

Hindus and Muslims traditionally use the left hand for performing ablutions, so
it is never used for eating or touching others. If eating with your fingers, use
only your right hand. Body contact in public is not accepted, except in very
Westernized places where hand shaking may be permitted. Very often the most you
will see is men holding hands -- a sign of comradeship.

Feet should be kept on the ground as they too are perceived as "unclean". When
entering any home, temple or mosque, always remove your footwear. If necessary,
carry a clean pair of socks with you to protect your feet.

Remember above all to respect worshippers. In some inner sanctuaries,
non-Hindus are forbidden to enter. This also applies to mosques for
non-Muslims. Jain temples post strict rules outside, which include banning
menstruating women, any items of leather and often cameras.

Give donations when appropriate but never under duress. If a temple guardian or
priest takes time to explain the history or significance of a site, he will
appreciate a small tip.

Women especially should dress modestly, avoiding cropped tops, shorts, above
the knee skirts and tight clothing. Local clothing is often the best bet for
appropriate dressing when visiting India. You can often find these items in
abundance and at very cheap prices in just about any area.

India's Spectacular Trains

If you have some time to spare, take a slow toy train up to the hill resort of
Shimla, Ooty (Udhagamandalam), Darjeeling or Matheran. There is nothing to
match the experience of chugging up the hills, past little hamlets and terraced
fields, making your way through tunnels and over breathtaking bridges. Its slow
pace gives you a panoramic view of changing vistas. The invigorating air and
the delights of a scenic hill resort provide a welcome breather from the hustle
and bustle of the city.

Shimla -- The toy train journey from Kalka to Shimla is entertaining with 107
tunnels and lofty arched bridges. The dazzling view and the stops at the
picturesque stations along the way -- Dharmpore, Taksal, Gamma and Solan all
add up to an exhilarating experience.

Access to Shimla -- A broad gauge line up to Kalka connects Shimla. 'The Toy
Train' covers the distance of 96 km between the two stations within six hours.

Ooty (Udhagamandalam) -- The Nilgiri Mountain Railway starts from the town of
Mettupalayam and thus begins a journey full of twists and turns as this narrow
gauge train ascends 46 km, on its way to the hill resort at Ooty. At a maximum 
speed of 33 km per hour this 'toy train' treks across plains, plantations and 
forest clad hills. The 16 tunnels and tall bridges on the way along with the 
breathtaking view make this toy train journey to Ooty an extraordinary 
experience!

Access to Ooty -- Ooty is connected by a narrow gauge line from Mettupalayam,
which serves as the railhead for mainline trains.

Major Trains to Mettupalayam -- The Nilgiri Express conncets Mettupalayam with
Chennai daily. Coimbatore, the nearest city is 90 kms away and linked to all
the major cities by rail . Mettupalayam is easily accessible from Coimbatore by
frequent bus or train services.

Take a Train Excursion

A couple of train rides worth taking while in India are listed below. Whether
you have a few hours or several day, India's trains can accommodate your needs.

Darjeeling -- The most famous of the little trains, is the one linking the town
of New Jalpaiguri the plains to the lovely hill station of Darjeeling. With a 2
ft gauge, the Darjeeling Hill Railway is indeed a 'toy train' being the
narrowest of the regular narrow gauges. The tiny century-old engine is
connoisseur's delight. The 86 km Darjeeling line has no tunnels, thus allowing
the traveller an uninterrupted view of the breathtaking scenery of the
Himalaya. The 7 1/2 hour ride is a journey especially for rail buffs.

Access to Darjeeling -- New Jalpaiguri , the starting point of the hill train
to Darjeeling, has direct connections to Calcutta, Delhi, Guwahati and other
places in India.

Matheran -- The 77 year old line, connecting Neral (on main line of Central
Railway) to Matheran , is the main way to reach the tiny hill resort, close to
Mumbai. As the little train wheezes up into the clear mountain air one can view
the scenic vista of hills and plains below. The lack of vehicular traffic at
Matheran makes it an unusual and peaceful retreat.

Access to Matheran -- The toy train to Matheran commences from Neral (Mumbai-
Pune line), which is connected from Mumbai by local train. The journey up to
Matheran from Neral takes about 1 1/2 hours. The toy train runs between sunrise
and sunset.

Various trains offer excursions ranging in time from a couple of days to nearly
two weeks. If you have the time, it is experience you will long remember. Four
of the major tours are aboard Ther Deccan Odyssey, The Fairy Queen, the Palace
on Wheels and The Royal Orient. These tours include stops at various sites,
meals and lodging. The prices are reasonable.

A Train Ride to Remember

Welcome aboard the Royal Retreat, the pride of India, the wonderful wonder,
unparallel, unique and unforgettable Palace On Wheels. Palace on Wheels has
been rated amongst the top ten luxury trains of the world. It happens to be one
of the finest ways to travel through the intoxicating, incomparable, incredible,
impressive, inimitable, inspirational land of India. Take a royal retreat and be
the king or the queen through the splendid journey of Palace on Wheels.

It's a journey worthy of kings. No wonder the experience is labeled the Palace
on Wheels. With its cream saloons, embellished with intricate designs, chug
through Rajasthan on a journey through the former royal kingdoms of this state.
Once ruled by kings whose presence lingers on in forbidding fortresses and
fairytale palaces, now converted into museums, hotels, and restaurants where
retainers serve truly royal repasts.

The 14 coaches of the royal train are named after former Rajput states matching
the aesthetics and interiors of the royal past. Each saloon has a mini pantry
and a lounge to ensure availability of hot and cold beverages and refreshment
and a place to relax and get together. The train has two lavish restaurants
"The Maharaja" and "The Maharani" with a Rajasthani ambiance serving palate
tickling Continental, Indian and Rajasthani cuisine. The train also boasts of a
well -- stocked bar offering the choicest of spirits of Indian and International
Brands. Each coach also offers a good collection of books to choose from.

In 1991, The Palace on Wheels has been refurbished to a great extent. The decor
in the saloons, bar lounge has been changed, keeping in mind the traditional
aesthetic yet modern, Palace on Wheels. Toilets have been redone and are
maintained sparkling clean. Each saloon lounge has been equipped with a color
television and a CD player. A satellite phone is on the to make you communicate
anywhere in the world from the train.

Festivals Abound

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.

Spectacular nature Walks

Located thirty-eight kms from Mannarkkad, is a place consisting of generally
hilly highland terrain, fed by the tributaries of the River Cauvery. An
extensive mountain valley above the crest of the Ghat ranges with numerous
rivulets of the Bhavani River. Mainly tribes and some settlers from Tamil Nadu
inhabit Attapady. A beautiful blend of mountains, rivers and forests, Attapaddy
is of great interest to anthropologists, as this is the habitat of many tribes
like the 'irolas' and 'mudugars'

Another hill station can be found at an altitude of 1600 m above sea level. It
was once the summer resort of the erstwhile British government in South India.
Sprawling tea plantations, picture book towns, winding lanes and holiday
facilities make this a popular resort town. Among the exotic flora found in the
forests and grasslands is the 'Neelakurinji'.

It is located 7 kms north east of Thirunelli Temple in Brahma Giri Hills. This
is a challenging tourist spot. A trekkers' paradise, this place is accessible
only by trekking. Located at an altitude of 1740 m above sea level, this hill
station offers great opportunities for bird watching. One has to trek 17 kms
through the wild forests, to reach 'Pakshipathalam' Many who are searching for
a vigorous workout in the outdoors find their way here.

The forests of Wayanad are a veritable treasure house of Flora and Fauna.
Wildlife freely roams in the sanctuaries of Matthunga, Begur and Tholpetty.
Home to stunning orchids, pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, rubber, bamboo and
coffee, Wayanad has a surprise in store for you around every corner. Tucked in
the lush tropical womb are the twin lakes of Vythiri & Lakkidi. Three Km from
Lakkidi is the Pookote Lake, covered in parts with lotus, a picture out of a
fairy tale book. At 6,890 ft is Chembra Peak just 24 Km from Vythiri

Silence and Snakes

One of the least disturbed forests of 'God's own country' the Silent Valley. It
is named so because it is devoid of the most common sound found in the Rain
forests--the incessant chirping of cicadas. The local name of the forest is
'Sairandhri', another name of Draupadi, the wife of the Pandavas. Some believe
its name is derived from the lion-tailed Macaque, whose scientific name is
Macca Silenus. Due to its topographic isolation no human being has ever made it
their home.

Malampuzha Dam is in the foothills of the Western Ghats. It is known as the
abode of Yakshi, because of the exquisite sculpture of Yakshi in the landscaped
gardens of the irrigation dam at this popular picnic spot. The fundamental
appeal of this town is the unabashed yet enticing sculpture created in concrete
by Kanai Kunhiraman, Kerala's best-known contemporary sculptor. Referred as the
Vrindavan of Kerala, the place derives its name from the Malampuzha River a
tributary of Bharatpuzha, the state's second largest river. The Rock Garden
here, created by the famous re-cycling artist Nekchand, is above all worth
spending time exploring. Also boating on the reservoir is another favorite
sport.

Set up in 1984 by the state govt. the park houses several snakes like the
Forsten's cat snake, the brown vine snake and of course the King Cobra, Indian
rock python, kraits, the trinket snake and the rock pit viper, the wolf snake,
and a variety of vipers like the saw scaled viper and Russel viper. There are
various types of cobra like the common cobra, the monocled cobra, and the
spectacled cobra. Also in the park are some varieties of water snakes,
crocodiles and the American green iguana. Also in Malampuzha is the thread
garden, a museum of a replica of nature, all made of thread.

Go on a Camel Safari

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.

Himalayan National Park

Characterized by dazzling high ridges, glaciers, deep gorges, alpine meadows
and valleys with closed virgin forests, the Great Himalayan National Park with
an altitudinal variation from 1,300m to 6,100m in Kullu district is one of the
best destinations for Himalayan flora and fauna lovers. Supporting a diverse
wildlife of over three hundred species of birds and over thirty species of
mammals, the region was declared a national park in 1984.

One third of the park area is under forest, mainly along the Nalas and their
tributaries. The forests vary from sub-tropical, to alpine, to dry alpine shrub
types. Himalayan forests of 'Chir' Pines, Conifers, Oaks, Firs, Rhododendrons
and Junipers can be encountered within the park. The presence of undisturbed
Oak forests at low and middle altitudes is worth noticing here, for it is rare
outside the park. Alpine meadows above 3,800m hold a high diversity of
herbaceous species, many of which have medicinal and aromatic properties of
great commercial value.

The excellent habitat shelters a large number of mammals and peasants. One of
the few known viable populations of Western Tragopan, a highly endangered
species of pheasants, lives in this protected environment. It is possibly the
only place in the Himalayas where the 'Bharal' (blue sheep) occurs virtually
side-by-side with the Himalayan 'Thar'. The largest population of the Himalayan
Thar endemic to India is in this park. The endangered Musk Deer can also be
found here. Herdsmen have also reported the elusive and highly endangered Snow
Leopard

The best seasons for visiting the park are summer from April to June and autumn
from September to November. The relatively high density of wildlife in the area
assures the visitors of sighting the Monal, Western Tragopan, Musk Deer, Goral,
Bharal, and the Himalayan Thar. The rainy season from July to August and the
winter season from December to March are not advisable periods to visit the
park.

Himalaya Mountains

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.

Wildlife Reserves

India is home to some of the most famed National Parks and Sanctuaries in the
world. India owing a diverse ecology boasts of plush vegetation and dense
forests, often housing house rare medicinal plants and exotic flowers. The
wildlife dwelling in these sanctuaries and reserves are abundant. Also the
Conservation programs to save wildlife have saved many species from near
extinction along with successful breeding programs.

The most pleasant time to visit any wildlife sanctuary in India, with the
exception of Dachigam is the months between October and March. However, the
chances of spotting wildlife are better from March to June when the weather is
hot. Below are listed just a few of India's wildlife sanctuaries. In total,
India offers nearly sixty reserves in addition to a great number of national
parks.

Gahirmatha Turtle Sanctuary is close to the Bhitar Kanika of Orissa. This is
the breeding ground for the giant Olive Ridley Turtles, who travel all the way
from the Pacific Ocean to mate and lay their eggs here. The Gharial sanctuary
at Tikarapada is a must for wildlife fans. Located at about 211-km from
Bhubaneswar and 58-km from Angul, it offers forest bungalow accommodation at
strategic places. If one wants to camp inside the sanctuary then he has to take
special permission to do so. Chandaka elephant reserve is located in the
Bhubaneshwar in the state of Orissa. Simlipal National Park is one of the
earliest to come under Project Tiger. It was declared as one of the nine tiger
project reserves in the country in 1973. It was declared a sanctuary in 1979.
The floral treasures of Simlipal National include about 501 species of plants
belonging to 102 families including medicinal and aromatic plants. The
waterfalls, tribal settlements and mountain peaks, increase the glory of the
park.

What to see in Agra, India

Nobody visiting Agra will want to miss the most famous of its landmarks, the
Taj Mahal. After that, it is only a short distance to Fort Agra, yet another
marvel in architecture. Indeed, India is full of such wonders, a testament to
the rich and ancient culture that inhabits this area of the world. The Taj
Mahal stands calm and breathtaking, on a raised marble platform, by the banks
of the Yamuna, testifying to the timelessness of art and love. Its pure white
marble shimmers silver in the soft moonlight, exudes a shell -- pink glow at
dawn, and at the close of the day, takes on the tawny, fiery hue of the
majestic sun.

Shahjahan built the monument in memory of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, the
'lady of the Taj', who died giving birth to their 14th child. It has been
called the most extravagant monument ever built for the sake of love. The
construction of the Taj commenced in 1631, and was completed in 1653. Workers
were gathered from all over the country and from Central Asia, and about 20,000
people were recruited to translate this wild dream into a reality.

The main architect was Isa Khan, who was brought all the way from Shiraz in
Iran. After he was deposed and brutally imprisoned in the Agra Fort, by his son
Aurangzeb, Shahjahan spent the rest of his life looking wistfully at his wife's
final resting place, just across the river. The Taj remains a symbol of eternal
love where the heart -- broken Shahjahan was subsequently buried, re-united
finally with his beloved Mumtaz. Among the other monuments that Agra takes
pride in is the Agra Fort. Armed with massive double walls, punctuated by four
gateways, the fort houses palaces, courts, mosques, baths, gardens and gracious
pavilions lie within its premises. The palace is also notable for its smooth
blending of Hindu and central Asian architectural styles.

More to see in the Agra area

A short drive from Agra you come upon the city of Fatehpur Sikri, which served
as the capital of the Mughal empire between 1570 and 1586. But as quickly as it
had been built, it was abandoned. A popular tale is attached to the city's
origin, as is often the case in notable cities throughout India. According to
the legend, Emperor Akbar did not have a male heir. Not knowing what else to
do, he made a pilgrimage to ask for the blessings of the powerful saint Sheikh
Salim Chisti. The Emperor's prayer was fulfilled, and it wasn not long before a
son was born to him. In celebration of the saint who had granted his prayer,
Akbar named the prince Salim, and decided to establish a new city to celebrate
his son's birth. And thus, the magnificent Fatehpur Sikri, the new capital,
came into being. The city was intended to symbolize the splendid standards, and
the humanitarian bent of this dynamic emperor. Although a Muslim, Akbar was well
known for his incredible acceptance of other religions, and he is said to have
spent time in a immense deal of study and discussion of other religions, in his
new capital. He also created a new religion, Deen -- e -- Elahi which attempted
to blend positive aspects of all the major religons into one composite whole.
This didn't work as well as he had hoped, but his ideas were noble. The finest
monuments within this area are the Diwan -- i -- Am, Diwan -- i -- Khas, Panch
Mahal, Jama Masjid, Panch Mahal, Buland Darwaza and the tomb of Saint Sheikh
Salim Chisti. This area is a wonderful place to learn of the rich religious
culture of India. Peace can be found among the many monuments that inhabit this
land.

Waterfalls of Karnataka

The gurgling waterfalls against the backdrop of brilliant sunset offer an
enchanting view. Small and big waterfalls that splash and ripple down the
glorious heights of the tall mountains, mark the landscape of Karnataka. Let's
explore some of this area's most beautiful ones.

A big attraction for tourists and filmdom alike the Abbey Falls look
magnificent with waters cascading down from scintillating heights. Even during
the summers, there is plenty of water in these falls. The roar of the falls can
be heard from the main road, from where a path goes through lovely coffee and
cardamom plantations right up to them. The chirping of innumerable birds, which
are easier to hear than to see, fills the air with sweet music. Do remember to
take your binoculars and camera when you go there.

The Gokak Falls are created by Ghataprabha River that takes a 170-ft leap here
over a sandstone cliff. The cliff is in a picturesque gorge of the Gokak valley
and is in the shape of a horseshoe. The rugged valley and the picturesque gorge
inspire poetry. The dull roar of the falls can be heard from a distance. The
general features such as the height; rapidity and the shape of the falls are
very similar to that of the Niagara Falls except width and color of the falls.

Located 10 kms from Kemmanagundi, at Kalhatti Falls, also known as Kalahasti
falls, the water cascades down from a height of 122 meters. All around are
fascinating scenic delights. There is also a local temple here constructed in a
gap between rocks. A 'jatra' is held here for three days every year and attracts
pilgrims from far and near.

Jog is famous for its magnificent waterfalls. The Sharavati river flowing over
a rocky bed takes a spectacular leap from a height of 292 meters and divides
into 4 smaller ones known as the Raja, Rani Rocket and Roarer presenting a
glorious view

Valley of the Flowers

High in the Himalayan ranges of Garhwal hills of Uttranchal lies an enchanting
valley. Here flower pastures with clear running streams are set against silver
birches and shining snow peaks. Dew lies thick on the flowers, birds sing in
the surrounding forest and the air is pure and charged with floral smells.

Hidden from the probing eyes of civilization, this valley had been known to the
inhabitants as the Bhyundar Valley, the playground of fairies and nymphs.
Trespassing their celestial abode was avoided although shepherds did take the
liberty to graze their cattle here.

Legends associate this valley with the area from where Hanumanji of Ramayana
collected "Sanjeevani" herbs to revive Lakshmana, the younger brother of Rama.
Hanuman had to visit far-flung areas in his search for the life -- saving herbs.

Frank S. Smith -- mountaineer, explorer, botanist who camped here for several
weeks in the monsoon of 1937 and did valuable exploratory work, introduced the
valley to the world as the Valley of Flowers.

The 7 kms. trail from Pulna to Bhyundar village is full of nature's scenic
splendours including cascading water falls and cold water springs. Shrubs and
wild roses grow abundantly and rhododendrons color the area with pink and dark
red. Small wayside tea stalls run all across the route and young and
enthusiastic tourist guides can be engaged at Bhyundar village. After resting
awhile here, the trek on the right bank of the Laxman Ganga continues through
the rich vegetation till a log bridge, supported on now, the trail becomes,
steeper and harder and 2kms. from here, you will reach Ghangharia, the base
camp for treks to Valley of Flowers and Hemkund Sahib. Since camping and
overnight stay is not allowed in the Valley of Flowers, Ghangharia is the
logical base camp for the trek

Tigers, Tigers Everywhere

The Ranthambore Park is set between the Aravalli and Vindhya ranges. Its
deciduous forests were once a part of the magnificent jungles of Central India.
The terrain is rugged and there are rocky ridges, hills and open valleys with
lakes and pools.

The park is famous for tigers and due to conservation efforts, the tiger
population has stabilized if not increased here. The tigers can be spotted
quite often even during the day, at their normal pursuits-- hunting and taking
care of their young ones.

Old crumbling walls, ruined pavilions, wells, and other ancient structures
stand witness to the region's glorious past. The entire forest is peppered with
the battlements and spillovers of the Ranthambhore fort -- tigers are said to
frequent these ruins, too.

Ranthambhor National Park is an outstanding example of Project Tiger's efforts
at conservation in the country. The forests around the Ranthambhore Fort were
once, the private hunting grounds of the Maharajas of Jaipur. The desire to
preserve the game in these forests for sport was responsible for their
conservation, and subsequent rescue by Project Tiger. In 1972, it was estimated
that there were around 1927 tigers in India, of which Rajasthan had 74, and the
number of big cats in Ranthambhore Sanctuary was 14. 1972 was also the year
that Project Tiger was launched, and this sanctuary was taken into its wings,
along with seven other sanctuaries and national parks.

As a result of stringent efforts in conservation, tigers, the prime assets of
the park, have become more and more active during the day. More than in any
other park or sanctuary in India, tigers are easily spotted here in daylight.
They can be seen lolling around lazily in the sun, or feverishly hunting down
Sambhar around the lakes. Therefore, Ranthambhore is probably the ideal park
for wildlife photography, and it does attract professional wildlife
photographers, from all over the globe.

The Pushkar Fair

The ancient town of Pushkar is transformed into a spectacular fair ground in
the month of Kartik. The fair attracts a great number of tourists from far and
wide. It has become one of the country's largest fairs. The fairgrounds
reverberate with festivity, as rows of make shift stalls display a bewildering
array of items that compete with each other for the visitors' attention. But
the highlight of Pushkar fair is the trading in camels. Camels are bought,
sold, decked up and paraded on the sand dunes, presenting a picturesque sight.
The camel, horse and donkey races are events that draw huge attendance. Body
tattooing is yet another favorite activity that attracts a large number of
enthusiasts.

The Pushkar fair brings together a large number of villagers from different
parts of the state. Some come here to sell. Some come here to buy. Some come
here on a pilgrimage. Still others come here just to enjoy the festivities. The
days are filled with fun and activity. The evenings are filled with music and
dance. Come dusk, and the rich strains of haunting music are carried across the
desert sands as the merrymaking continues deep into the night. The profusion of
colors that run riot in the desert sands, the glee and the contagious
enthusiasm of the village folk are a unique experience for every visitor.

On this special occasion, the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation (RTDC)
puts up a tourist village. The tourist village is self-sufficient and specially
designed to complement the natural beauty of the site. It has a Coffee Shop and
Dining Hall, which can cater to 1500 guests at a time.

The village is arranged in blocks of tents, each with its own identity, named
after the famous dances of Rajasthan. The village also has huts with attached
western style toilets and running water.

The Kumbh Mela

Since time immemorial, The Kumbh Mela, the greatest of the Indian fairs, has
enamored people from all walks of life. Irrespective of all worldly barriers of
caste, creed, region, the Kumbh Mela has wielded a mesmeric influence over the
mind and the imagination of the ordinary Indian. The mela brings alive the most
spectacular India, now almost relegated to the pages of history.

Symbolically speaking, the forces of creation are collected in one vessel
(Kumbh) and a celebration (mela) ensues, which is why this event is called
'Kumbh Mela'. "Kumbh" meaning the pot and "Mela" a sacred Hindu pilgrimage,
attracts the world's largest congregation of religious pilgrims.

Millions of Hindu worshippers take a dip in the holy River Ganges at the
flowing together of the three rivers; the holy Ganges, Yamuna and the mythical
Saraswati, to wash away their sins as part of a festival, in the small town of
Allahabad. The month long Mela (festival) represents a time when the river is
believed to turn into purifying nectar, allowing the devotees to cleanse their
souls as they bathe.

This Mela presents the surrealistic view of a mini-India, where trans-sectarian
Hindus are one on the issue of the virtues of the holy bath. All the devotees
experience and understand the invisible, ultimate reality of wholeness and
oneness, in the same way, as does a pilgrimage to Mecca to Muslims and
Jerusalem to Christians of different quarters of the world.

Displaying a passionate paradigm of Hinduism both at its best and its worst, it 
is undoubtedly, the greatest religious fair and the highest state of water 
symbolism. Though representing the infinitesimal Indian civilization, this mela 
in its magnificent form, reminds us of our extraordinary religious and spiritual 
legacy, and helps to maintain national integration by arousing psycho-traditional 
urges of the people.

Take a Beach Holiday: Thousands of sun-deprived tourists visit India because it
has the most diverse varieties of beaches anywhere in the world. Calm
backwaters and lagoons, bays and rough lava-rocked seas, marine estuaries with
fish, crashing surf, powdery golden sand or palm fringed shores -- India has
them all. The West Coast with the Arabian Sea and the East Coast with the Bay
of Bengal offer many a lush vistas to the traveler. The coasts of India have
their own seafood cuisine, relaxing spas, diving and water sports and great
places to stay for a balmy holiday. Kovalam is one of India's best sea resorts.
The long coastline lined with swaying coconut palm trees dotted with an
occasional fishing hamlet is quickly developing into one of the world's finest
string of beaches. The sea applauds the beach temple in Mahabalipuram,
gloriously silhouetted against the spectrum of the seven colors in the sky.
Puri, on the East Coast, is surely one of the world's most picturesque beaches.
The beach holiday to beat them all is in the Isles of Andaman and Nicobar and
Lakshwadeep, where you can see the myriad colors of the flashy fish in the
coral reefs from above the green waters. Goa offers the best holiday villages
on its beaches. Everything about Goa is spellbinding from the landscape dotted
with Portuguese architecture, to the way of life that exudes an irresistible
Old World charm. Anjuna or Calangute Beach, and Miramar Bay in Panjim are
quieter. The beach at Calangute is rocky. At Anjuna the waters are gentle and
offer opportunities for boat rides, sea scooter rides, spot-the-dolphins rides,
and motorboat rides. Colva and Benaulim are quieter and less crowded than
Anjuna. Sinquerim and Candolim are also quiet beaches that afford anonymity.
Every beach in India makes a picture perfect holiday destination.

Visiting Bangalore: Bangalore is famous for its fine extensive gardens, Lal
Bagh, was laid out in the 18th century by Hyder Ali and his son, Tipu Sultan.
Covering 240 acres, the park contains a variety of plants and trees, a deer
park, and one of the largest collections of rare tropical and sub-tropical
plants, in the country. The Glass House, a huge conservatory is the venue of
the annual flower, vegetable and fruit shows. Cubbon Park, laid out in 1864
covers an area of 300 acres. Within its grounds are the Public Library, the
High Court, the Government Museum and the Visveswaraiah Technological &
Industrial Museum. The Attara Kacheri, as the High Court building is known in
these parts, was built in 1864. The Government Museum, one of the oldest in
India, was built in 1886, and houses collections of coins, art, and relics.
Located near the City Market, are the remains of a fort dating back to the days
of Hyder Ali, and Tipu Sultan's summer palace. The palace, an elaborately
decorated structure, has ornate arches and minarets. Bangalore boasts of some
of the oldest, and most beautiful temples in the country. Adjoining Tipu's
summer palace is the Venkataramanaswamy Temple, a 300 year old temple which is
still in very good condition. South of Bangalore, in Basavangudi, is the Bull
Temple, built by Kempe Gowda. The idol is a massive Basava or bull, which has
been carved from a single boulder. Another notable temple is the Gavi
Gangadhareswara temple, an unusual cave temple. It has been designed in such a
manner so that, on the festival of Sankranti, the rays of the sun pass between
the horns of a Nandi Bull placed outside the temple, and thereby, light up the
image of Lord Shiva. Another temple dedicated to Lord Shiva is the Someshwara
Temple, built by Kempe Gowda, in Ulsoor.

Visiting Ahmedabad India: Ahmedabad is the largest city and former capital of
Gujarat. It is made up of a remarkable mix of the splendid past and an exciting
present. Named after the Sultan who founded it in 1411, the city is associated
with Mahatma Gandhi, Father of the Nation, whose simple ashram on the banks of
river Sabarmati is now a site of national pilgrimage. Ahmedabad is a great
textile and commercial center and known as the "Manchester of India". The city
is today the second largest flourishing city in Western India and is a place
where tradition and modern join together in perfect harmony. We shall cover
some of the wonderful places to explore in this area of India. On a quiet
stretch of the Sabarmati River lies the Gandhi Ashram, built in 1920. During
the lifetime of Mahatma Gandhi, it was known as Satyagraha Ashram and was the
center of the struggle for Independence. It was from here, in 1930, that the
Mahatma started on his famous "Dandi March" to the sea to protest against the
Salt Tax imposed by the British. 'Hridaya Kunj', the simple cottage where he
lived, is preserved as a National Monument. A Gandhi Memorial Center, a Library
and a Sound-and-Light show offer in depth insight into the Mahatma's life and
work. Hussain-Doshi's Gufa is a gallery housing the collaborative efforts of
artist M. F. Hussain and the architect B. V. Doshi. Here, art and architecture
fuse to become a unique experience, both complementing each other
magnificently. Located in the campus of the Center for Environment Planning and
Technology, the Gufa is a configuration of cave-like structures buried under the
ground. This marvel of contemporary architecture was constructed using computer
aided design and tribal initiative. These are just two of the must-see areas of
Ahmedabad. We will explore further areas at a later time.

The Garden City of India: A visit to India would not be complete without a stop
at Bangalore. This city is located one thousand meters above sea level. Being
the capital of the state of Karnataka, Bangalore, is an exciting cosmopolitan
city. It is also a major industrial and commercial center of the country. Kempe
Gowda founded the city in the early 16th century. Two centuries later, it became
an important fortress city under Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan. The ruins of those
periods can still be seen on the Bellary Road, at Lal Bagh, Ulsoor and Gavi
Gangadhareswar Temple. You could spend many hours exploring the numerous ruin
sites in this area. After a day among the ruins, you come away with a strong
feeling of knowing the history of this area and understanding how it grew to
its present glory. Bangalore is known as the Silicon Valley of the country, the
nerve center of India's software industry. Its other major industries include
aircraft and electronics and machine tools. Despite being one of Asia's fastest
growing cities, Bangalore remains one of the most elegant metropolises in India.
The sense of class will cause you to stop and wonder at what you see. Bangalore
is a well-planned city, sporting tree-lined avenues, a large number of parks,
gardens and lakes, Bangalore is aptly called India's garden city. The city
attracts people in large numbers, from all over the country, and abroad. Most
people come for the peaceful atmosphere of the gardens, while others come to
look for better job opportunities and higher education. Surprisingly, all this
frenzied industrial expansion and the large increase in the population, has not
robbed Bangalore of its vital old-world appeal. It is a true blending of
old-world class and modern-day industry, a place for everyone. Nature and
industry reside side by side and thrive on this blending in a way not found in
many other places.

Chennai: India 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.

Humavan's Tomb: India is a lot like Egypt in that many of the tourists
attractions happen to be tombs of history makers that are revered by the
people. One of the most famous tombs of India's history was built almost five
hundred years ago. This tomb actually holds more than one body. Humayun's Tomb
is situated in Delhi. Humayun's senior widow Bega Begam, popularly known as
Haji Begam built the tomb, at a cost of 15 lakh rupees. It was built in the
year 1565. It is among the first examples of Mughal architecture, with high
arches and a double dome. There are two high double-storey gateways on the west
and south that lead to the enclosure. There is a pavilion in the center of the
eastern wall and a bath chamber in the center of the northern wall. To enter
the tomb's chamber one has to come through the south entrance while the other
three sides are covered with mesh wire in white marble. In the quietude of the
central chamber lies the tomb, though the actual resting-place of Humayun is
directly beneath in an underground chamber. The lofty mausoleum is in the
center of the enclosure and rises from a podium faced with series of cells
having arched openings. The central octagonal chamber contains the cenotaph,
encompassed by octagonal chambers at the diagonals and arched lobbies on the
sides. Their openings are closed with perforated screens. Three arches dominate
each side, the central one being the highest. This plan is repeated on the
second story too. The roof surmounted by a double dome (42.5m) of marble has
pillared kiosks (chhatris) placed around it. Several rulers of the Mughal
dynasties are buried here. Bahadur Shah Zafar had taken refuge in this tomb
with three princes during the first war of independence (AD 1857).




Peaceful Getaways

Vacations can be hectic. India is so rich in variety that it is hard to see
everything. Taking time to visit the more serene areas of the country will help
revive your spirit and make your vacation all the more enjoyable. Let's explore
some of these peaceful mountain escapes.

Located at the elevation of 996 m. above sea level on the south bank of the
Ravi River, the ancient Pahari capital was founded in 920 A.D. by Raja Sahil
Verma, who named it after his favourite daughter Champavati. The valley is
noted for the magnificence of it's scenery-touching the fringe of the Shivaliks
and having three well-defined snowy ranges, the Dauladhar, constituting the
outer Himalayas, the Pir Panjal or the mid Himalayas, and the Zanskar range or
the inner Himalayas.

Located in Himachal Pradesh at an altitude of 1220m. Kullu was once known as
Kulanthpitha, which means the end of the habitable world. Beyond rose the
forbidding heights of the Greater Himalayas, and by the banks of the shining
river Beas, lay the fabled 'Silver Valley'. The mountain-scapes remain
spectacular regardless of the weather. The 'Silver Valley' has nature's
treasures that lie carelessly scattered as flowers on the high meadows. The
town of Kullu has long been a center of faith. In the 17th century, Raja Jagat
Singh built here an idol of Lord Raghunathji, which he brought from Ayodhya. As
a mark of his penance, he placed the idol on his throne and it became the
presiding deity of the valley.

Lahaul and Spiti, situated at an altitude of 6,500 mtrs are two remote
Himalayan valleys of Himachal Pradesh lying on the Indo-Tibet border. Strange,
exciting, primitive, these valleys are incomparable in mountain scape, in the
rugged beauty of their rocky escapements and the splendor of their snow covered
peaks.

Nature Retreats

Chail is located at 43 km higher then Shimla it was created by Maharaja of
Patiala who was banned from Shimla as a result of a mild romantic fling at
scandal point on Shimla's Mall. He created his own seventy-five acre Himalayan
resort, which has now become a well-known tourist spot. Chail is set amidst
tall cedars & stately oaks. When trekking through the forest you are no doubt
going to meet up with barking deer and the highly endangered kaleej pheasant.
And when tired, sit down & be refreshed by dazzling views of the Choor Chandani
Peak

Kufri, located a mere 8,602 ft 17 km away from Shimla, is watched over by the
vast expanse of ancient cedar forests. When you visit, you will bring back
memories of day long picnics, horse riding and lazy walks during languid hazy
summer days. Mahasu peak the highest point in Kufri, offers a challenging hike.
When the sky is a cloudless blue, watch the views of snowy clad peaks of
Badrinath & Kedarnath The hills come alive with shouts of young voices throwing
snow balls during the many long days of the winter season .Kufri also provides
some of the finest ski slopes. This attracts ski expertise from all over the
country and is a wonderful place if you wish to learn skiing from the best.

This tiny Raj-era retreat is at height of 7,047 ft, 10 km north of Shimla.
Mashobra was the first choice of British officials and their families who
wanted proximity to as well as privacy from Shimla. Decades after they left,
their indulgence still marks Mashobra's stylish properties Two of the village's
most prominent structures, The Wildflower Hall and The Retreat are considered
some of the finest retreats India has to offer. They offer an upper class stay
in the midst of wilderness.

National Parks of India

Besides its numerous wildlife sanctuaries, India also sports nearly twenty
national parks. All manner of flora and fauna can be found within the
boundaries of these parks. Below are a few of the most popular.

Sri Venkateshwara National Park extends over two districts of Chittoor and
Cuddapah of Andhra Pradesh in an area of 353.62 sq.km. The park established in
October 1989, is named after Lord Venkateshwara of Tirupati. It is located in
Rajampet of Cuddapah district and Chandragiri and Bailapadu of Chittoor
district. The hilly terrain bounded by Seshachalam and Tirumala hills is rugged
and beautiful with gorges, steep slopes, plateaus and valleys. The park is also
famous for its beautiful waterfalls like Talakona, Gundalakona and Gunjana.

Kaziranga National Park lies on the south bank of the Brahamaputra. The Park
was established in 1908 and was declared a National Park in 1974.

Hemis High-Altitude National Park is the largest high-altitude reserve of
India. Very close to Leh, in the area of Markha and Rumbak Valleys, the area in
general is rocky and sparsely covered. The park comes under the district of
Ladakh and represents the Trans-Himalayan ecosystem. The park was established
in the year 1981 to preserve the dwindling population of wildlife in Ladakh
region with an area of 600 sq km. The park has been earmarked as one of the
snow leopard reserves under a central government project to conserve the
species, its prey population, and fragile mountain habitat.It takes its name
from the world famous Buddhist Gompa situated here. Sunderban is located in the
Ganga delta in West Bengal and was declared a National Park in 1984. It covers a
vast stretch of mangrove swamp, lush forested islands and small rivers near the
Bay of Bengal and comprises mainly of estuarine mangrove forests and swamps.
The Sajnakhali sanctuary, famous for its rich avian population, is regarded as
a part of the Sunderbans National Park.

Namdapha National Park

Namdapha National Park in India is now a protected area, having been declared
in 1983 Namdapha National Park under Wildlife (Protection) Act. The same year,
it was also declared as a Tiger Reserve under project tiger. With a total area
of 1,985-sq-kms, this is the largest national park in the Northeast and one of
the larger protected areas in the country.

About 150 species of trees have been identified which include Dipterocarps like
the Hollong growing up to 50 metres. The floral species' richness and
composition are very impressive indeed and show density, variation and
endemicity, which may have few parallels. This includes a rich gene pool of
indigenous crop plants along with their wild relatives and ecological variants
such as the wild banana, citrus and mango. A formidable list of medicinal and
ornamental plants including the wild orchids can be also be made.

Of a total of 135 kind of land mammals found in India, as many as 75 kind are
represented in Namdapha which no other reserve in the country can match.
Perhaps the richest assemblage is in the order carnivora with 22 kinds
identified in Namdapha and it is surely the only protected area in the world
having four big Cats- Tiger, Leopard, Snow Leopard and Clouded Leopard.

In herbivores also, the variety is amazing considering that apart from several
Deer species, Namdapha is home to the bison as much as to the Himalayan Tahr
and the Bharal. Besides, it has all the three Goat Antelopes found in India --
Goral, Serow and Takin.

Amongst primates, it is the habitat of the rare and endangered Hoolock Gibbon,
the only Ape species found in India. The different species of flying squirrels
include one that is endemic which has been named as the Namdapha Flying
Squirrel. This is a must-see stop on any tour of India.

Muslim Music in India

While the Hindu dancers of India dominate, there is a very large Muslim
population that contributes to the rich diversity of India's music. While Hindu
music revolves mainly around dance, Muslim music is based on instrumental
pieces, with voice and dance being secondary.

String instruments include the sitar, invented in the thirteenth century, its
smaller version, called the sarod, and the sarangi. The sarangi is considered
one of the most difficult in the world as its forty plus strings are held by
the fingernails. Also used is the santoor, a zither of Persian origin.

The shahnai is the main wind instrument. This is similar to an oboe. Bamboo
flutes are also often played. Percussion is dominated by the tabla, whose
invention is attributed to the creator of the sitar.

The courts of the Turks and Mughals gave rise to the tradition of the ragas,
melodic structures of between five and twelve notes, within which musicians
improvise. These are defined and played according to the time of day and season
and their suitability for a masculine or feminine audience.

Each raga consists of several movements. Traditionally, each would have lasted
hours, but modern attention spans have seen these being shortened. The final
movement, which is divided into three sub-sections, introduces percussion in
complex patterns of sound and rhythm.

Although instrumentals have traditionally been a male area, with women
contributing as vocalists, women are now starting to venture into the
instrumental portion of performances.

Southern India's Carnatic music developed in Thanjavur and, althoughit follows
the raga structure, it is livelier and uses modified versions of the
traditional instruments.

Major music festivals are held in New Delhi, Mumbai in Bombay, and Chernai in
Madras. Gwalior's Tansen Festival is a highlight every December. No visit to
India is complete without listening to a performance of this traditional
musical form.

Music and Dance of India

Music and dance abound in India. Travelers to the country enjoy it for the sake
its beauty, never realizing that the music and dance is steeped in history, each
movement conveying a message. Often worship rituals involve dances created
hundreds of years ago. Each step, gesture and musical note brings with it a
meaning, however subtle. The dances or India are an art.

Rajasthan is one of the most richly rewarding regions for folk dances,
devotional songs and music. Professional tribal performers in brilliantly
colored costumes entertain visitors and residents throughout the area. Their
performances include fire dances, dramas on mock horses and cymbal and drum
dances. All this is accompanied by haunting ballads and handcrafted instruments.

Originating from the chanted hymns of the sacred Vedas, music evolved to
express the seasonal cycles and the rhythm of agricultural work, became
interlinked with dance forms to celebrate the harvest, greet a particular
season or worship a specific god.

Originally, these dances were performed in Hindu and Jain temples. In time,
however, temple leaders began to consider the dances too suggestive and the
ritual dancing was banned within the temples. Today, you can only find these
traditional dances performed in temples at three events each year. The
Khajurako Dance Festival is helf\d in March. December sees two festivals, the
Konark Dance Festival and the Mamallapuram Dance Festival. Visitors to India at
these times will enjoy a rare treat by attending one of these festivals.

Two forms of dance worship bear mentioning, Kathakali and Odissi. Kathakali of
Kerala is a male-only dance form. The performers wear colorful costumes and the
dances are full of intense drama. Odissi is Orissa's ancient dance form. The
performers act out ancient myths in extravagant costumes, accompanied by
musicians and singers. These dances can often be seen during the Konark Dance
Festival in November.

Mountain Retreats

If you are looking for a place to get away from the hustle and bustle and enjoy
some time in contemplation, India offers many such retreats. Below are three of
the best.

Darjeeling is the paradise of the East. Lofty mountains surround Darjeeling.
Except for the monsoon months, the Kanchenjunga peak can be seen. Down below in
the valley flow the rivers swollen by rain water or melting snow. Darjeeling is
a fascinating place rich in natural beauty and surrounded by Buddhist
monasteries. Its beauty surpasses any other hill station. The real fun in
coming to Darjeeling is on the toy train. It takes six to seven hours to cover
a distance of 82 kms and the slow speed gives you enough time to watch and
appreciate the beauty which nature has provided it. This train passes through
the forests, waterfalls, over deep valleys and through the mountains and tunnels

A small but bustling town in the Himalaya foothills of West Bengal- Kalimpong
is at an altitude of 1250 meters. Kalimpong is famous for its monasteries,
churches and a private library for the study of Tibetan and Himalayan
languages, culture etc. This place also has the Sericulture center and the
orchid nurseries and of course the place provides some beautiful sights of the
Himalayan range. Though not all travelers visit this place, which demands some
attention. The journey from Darjeeling along the Teesta River is very
interesting.

Tea estates, orange orchards and cardamom plantations surround Mirik. Mirik has
all the facilities to fulfill the needs of a tourist, it is surrounded by
forests, flowers and is a very peaceful place which attracts tourists
automatically. This place is 5,800 feet above the sea level and has a
population of 10,000 people. Mirik has not yet acquired the hustle and bustle
of the regular hill station and is free of pollution. Any time spend here is
enough to refresh you.

Meher Bab's Shrine

India is a land of intense religious activity -- it is littered with shrines
and holy men assert their divinity from every street corner. If you find
yourself in this wonderful yet confusing country and are looking to immerse
yourself in the search for enlightenment, then a visit to Meher Baba's shrine
in the heart of India is the best place to start.

Meher Baba lived in India from 1894-1969 and is believed by many to be the
Christ, the Ancient One, come again "not to teach but to awaken" through divine
love. For 44 years he maintained silence in the midst of intense activity,
serving the needy in India as well as travelling to the West on a number of
occasions, gathering followers from all over the world.

Today it is possible to experience some of Meher Baba's special silence at his
shrine at Meherabad, near Ahmednagar in the state of Maharashtra. You can visit
this sublime place at any time of the year and from June to March you can stay
at the Pilgrim Centre located close to the shrine. This beautiful building
consists of a series of simple yet comfortable rooms set around four internal
gardens bursting with flowers and buzzing with brightly-coloured insects and
hummingbirds. In the centre is a large communal dining room where a delicious
menu combines Indian and Western food.

Meher Baba was emphatic about not creating a new religion; everyone's spirtual
journey is unique. There are no techniques to practice, no rules and
regulations. This is not a place for people who need structure and activity.
The only ritual on offer at Meherabad is afternoon volleyball! Those who travel
from all over the world are content to simply be in a place that seems to
emanate peace and tranquillity and to listen to stories of Meher Baba's life
from those who met him. All are welcome

Keralan Backwaters

From north to south, the dreamlike watery expanse known as Kuttanad extends
forty-six miles, from Kochi through Allapuzha to Kollam and inland to kattayam.
This area boasts 930 miles of waterways. Meandering channels edged by lush
vegetation, groves of coconut and banana palms and rice fields connect with
wide open rivers and lagoons. Life moves slowly in these parts.

This area offers a fascinating insight into the rural lifestyle of its
inhabitants. Colorful thatched or tiled houses cluster together in small
communities, complete with worsip centers, banks and hospitals that rely on
water ambulances.

Tourists can get to this area by boats-both arranged tours and ferries. Buses
also travel close to the area. Plan on spending a lot of time regardless of how
you choose to travel. Transportation in this area matches the slow pace of life
in this area.

If you have extra money, you might consider spending a night or two at the
Coconut Lagoon, an elaborate resort built in the grandest of traditional
Keralan architecture. Nearby is an old colonial house known as the Taj Garden
Retreat. Both of these places offer sunset cruises in converted cargo boats and
overnight excursions on houseboats. Not a bad way to explore this beautiful area.

January, July, August and September are the months given to Alappuzha's snake
boat races. These events find boats manned by a hundred men each racing at top
speed through the waterways of this region. The most famous of these races is
the Nehru Trophy Race that takes place on the second Sunday of August every
year. Forty highly decorated boats compete in this race and are often
accompanied by naval helicopters showing their prowess. Crowds are large for
this yearly event and anyone who is in the region only for the races would
never guess how laid back life normally is in the backwater area.

India's Wildlife

Over the years places like Mahabaleshwar have developed para-gliding, and
parachute rides. It takes your breath away, watching the beauty of the hill
station from a height. The valley below and the sky kissing the earth far away
has its own beauty. The Buddhist monastery of Bir in Kangra, has been the venue
for national and international para-gliders for past sixteen years.

If you are passionate about mountaineering then India is the place to be. It
has a wide range of mountains to choose. You have the chilling Himalay, the
Aravalli, the Sahyadri, the Vindya and many more exciting mountain ranges. The
pulsing climbs are at Bhimashankar, Saputara and others in Maharashtra. Manali
in Himachal Pradesh, the Beas Kund region and lower reaches of Hanuman Tibba,
Shitidhar peaks around the source of the beas river and the Deo Tibba are quite
nursery in nature.

India has a varied and rich wildlife. It has the Stripped Royal Bengal Tiger,
one horned Rhinoceros, Wild Buffalo, Swamp Deer and many other exciting
animals. The government, a few environmental activists and organizations have
taken efforts to maintain the beautiful sanctuaries, a home for many birds and
animals on the verge of extinction.

Most of the sanctuaries have lakes which makes them picturesque and supports
rich aquatic life including fresh water crocodiles and a number of species of
fishes and snakes. Water birds like corrnorants, darter, ibis, white breasted
water hen, moorhen, jacanas, stilt, river tern, ringed plover, sand piper and
herons (gray, and purple) are quite common.

The wildlife population in India includes elephants, Indian bison, swamp deer,
sambhars, hog deer, sloth bears, tigers, leopard cats, jungle cats, hog
badgers, capped langurs, hoolock gibbons, pigs, jackals, porcupines, pythons,
buffaloes and of course the one horned rhinoceros. Pelican, duck, geese,
hornbill, ibis, cormorant, egret, heron, black necked stork, lesser adjutants,
ring tailed fishing eagles are also in plenty. During winters a large number of
migratory birds are regular visitors

India's Bird Sanctuary: Located in eastern Rajasthan, about 176 kms away from
Delhi, and 50 km west of Agra, is the Keoladeo Ghana or Bharatpur National
Park, one of the most spectacular bird sanctuaries in India, nesting indigenous
water- birds as well as migratory water birds and waterside birds. Sambar,
chital, nilgai and boar also inhabit this national park. More than three
hundred different kinds of birds can be found in this small park of 29 sq. km.
of which 11 sq. km. are marshes and the rest scrubland and grassland. The name
Keoladeo comes from an ancient Hindu temple, devoted to Lord Shiva, which
stands at the center of the park. 'Ghana' means dense, referring to the thick
forest, which used to cover the area. While many of India's parks have been
developed from the hunting preserves of princely India, Keoladeo Ghana is
perhaps the only case where the habitat has been created by a maharaja. It is
often full of the singing of birds and other animals. In earlier times,
Bharatpur town used to be flooded after almost every monsoon. In 1760, an
earthen dam (Ajan Dam) was constructed, to save the town, from this destructive
force of nature. The depression created by digging the soil for the dam was
cleared and this became the Keoladeo Lake. At the beginning of this century,
this lake was developed, and was divided into several portions. A system of
small dams, dykes, sluice gates, etc., was created to control water level in
different sections. This became the hunting preserve of the Bharatpur royalty,
and one of the best duck-shooting wetlands in the world. Hunting was prohibited
by the mid-sixties, however, because of frequent complaints. The area was
declared a national park on 10 March 1982, and accepted as a World Heritage
Site in December 1985

Glaciers of India

The Siachen glacier lies in the extreme north-central part of Jammu and Kashmir
near the border of India and Tibet. With a length of about 72-km, Siachen is
known as the largest glacier in the world outside the Polar Regions. Located on
the north-facing slopes of the Karakoram Range, Siachen feeds the Mutzgah or
Shaksgam River that flows parallel to the Karakoram Range before entering into
Tibet.

Large tributary glaciers like the Shelkar Chorten and Mamostang open into the
main glacier from both sides of its trough. The trunk glacier and its
tributaries are in the form of a vast ice field, particularly during the winter
season when there is continuous snowfall for several weeks at a stretch. The
Siachen glacier lies in a vast trough more than 2-km wide and the sides of the
glacier are strewn with rocks and boulders. The central part of this glacier,
however, is a vast snowfield.

Numerous icefalls have been formed at the junction of small valley glaciers and
the trunk glacier. Lateral moraines occur at the confluence of larger tributary
glaciers and the trunk glacier. The sidewalls of the glacial trough are steeply
sloping and avalanches roll down these slopes quite often, particularly in winter

This glacier encompasses a vast area in winter. There are virtually no signs of
recession. This tract is more or less devoid of a vegetative cover due to its
high elevation as well as its latitude. The bulk of the total annual
precipitation is in the form of snow.

To the east of the Siachen lies the Rimo glacier group, a group of three
glaciers -- North, Central and South -- located at an altitude of between 6,000
and 7,000 m above sea level. Between them, these glaciers have almost 700
-sq-kms of ice, which at places is 100 m deep. Thus the Siachen glacier empire
contains about 2,000-sq-kms of ice surface and almost 200 cubic kilometers of
ice.

Exploring Hill Stations

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.

Elephanta caves: 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.

It's All in the Planning: Chandigarh was designed by the French architect Le
Corbusier and is the capital of the Indian states of Punjab and Haryana. Though
Simla was chosen as temporary headquarters, the need for a permanent capital
resulted in the birth of a new city at the foothills of the Shivalik hills.
Chandigarh then became the new capital of Punjab and Haryana. This city covers
an area of fifty-six square kilometers; Chandigarh is the first `deliberate'
city of India. The city has neatly laid out roads and parks, buildings ranging
against mountain peaks, boulevards and streets lined by endless rows of trees
and shrubs. The city is named after the Goddess Chandi Devi, whose white --
domed temple stands on the slope of a hill in the north east of Chandigarh, on
the edge of the Shivalik hills. Spread over an area of 114 sq. kms, it is a
modern city, built in 47 sectors (excluding the unlucky number 13). Each sector
consists of market places and shopping centers. State Transport buses,
auto-rickshaws and taxis interconnect all the sectors. This city has its
population drawn from every community and region in India, and ranks second in
literacy among the country's states and union territories. Chandigarh has about
fifteen medium and large-scale industrial units. These include soft drinks,
electric meters, antibiotics, electronic components and equipment, bio-medical
equipment, tractor parts, cement pipes and tiles, and washing machines The Rock
garden, a famous tourist spot, is an architectural wonder, covering an area of 6
acres. Nekchand Saini, with multicoloured pieces of stones and other discarded
objects, built it. The Sukhna Lake is an artificial lake, spread over an area
of 3 sq. kms. Boating facilities are available here, and walking around the
perimeter of the lake is a very refreshing experience. Asia's largest rose
garden, Zakir Gulab Bagh, spread out over 30 acres of land, boasting of 50,000
rose-trees of 1600 different species.

Indian Pilgrimages: India is the land of gods and diverse religions where lies
the serenity of its heritage. India is dotted with pilgrimages. Pilgrimage
tourism is extremely popular in India. Great religions like Hinduism,Buddhism
and Sikhism have originated on the Indian soil. The unity in diversity is the
keyword for this grand country. In North India, some of the holiest places to
visit are Varanasi, Prayag (Allahabad),where the Kumbh Mela is held,and
Mathura,the birthplace of Lord Krishna. In the East India lies Puri in Orissa
that famous for the Jagannath Temple and its Rath Yatra. Rameshwaram and
Kanyakumari lie in the South and Dwaraka the kingdom of Lord Krishna in the
west. Also places like Tirupati, Vaishnodevi, Shirdi, Shabrimala, Tanjore and 
Madurai towns are famous for their temples and shrines and very much on a must-
visit list. Sikh pilgrimage sites in India include the Golden Temple founded by 
Guru Ram Das, the fourth Sikh Guru. This is the most sacred shrine of the Sikhs 
and is in the town of Amritsar. Another important pilgrimage site is Anandpur
Sahib, where Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru, created the 'Khalsa' or the
pure ones by baptizing them.

Jain temples in India are an attraction to all the devotees following Jainism
religion. One of the most important Jain pilgrimage sites located in the
Karnataka state is the monolithic statue of Bahubali at Sravanabelagola. Also
the Mount Abu in Rajasthan where the Dilwara Temple is situated is one of the
finest examples of Jain art and architecture.

Buddhist pilgrimage sites found in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Ladakh, and other
parts of India are important destinations for millions of people in South East
Asia and other parts of the world. Bodh gaya pilgrimage in India is reckoned as
the most important Buddhist pilgrimage center. Also the magnificent Mahabodhi
temple in Bodh gaya is an architectural amalgamation of many centuries,
cultures and heritages. Vaishali is of special significance to the Buddhists.
It is here that Buddha delivered his last sermon and announced his impending
Nirvana .

India's Culture Center: Kolkota is a city for those who love the arts. It
bosasts many art performances as well as numerous museums. Kolkota is a vibrant
city on the move, volatile and unpredictable. The Gateway to India, till 1912,
and the capital of the Raj in India, it still bears the Victorian imprint on
its streets and structures. Kolkota is home to more than 10 million people. It
boasts major industrial plants, textile mills and corporate units. Regal
edifices, grubby alleys, bustling bazaars, elegant hotels, people from all
walks of life -- Kolkota has it all. Forming the green heart of the city is
agreat stretch of lawns called the Maidan, fringed on one side by the river,
and on the other by an elegant boulevard, the Chowringhee. The Maidan is the
venue for an assortment of events, ranging from football matches to political
rallies. The grounds are also aptly, referred to as the 'lungs of the city.'
Surrounding the lawns are a number of famous landmarks. At the southern end is
the Victoria Memorial, an imposing white marble edifice, a museum housing the
relics of the British Empire. At the northern end is the Ochterlony Monument, a
48 metre high column, now known as the Shahid Minar. Just adjacent to it, are
the Eden Gardens, with a picturesque lake and a quaint Burmese pagoda. The
Birla Planetarium, one of the largest in the world, is placed at the southern
end of the vast Maidan, along with the Zoological Gardens. The Indian Museum,
one of the largest of its kind in India, is located in Chowringhee. The Academy
of Fine Arts, Nehru Childrens Museum, Netaji Museum, Birla Academy of Art and
Culture, Birla Industrial and Technological Museum, Rabindra Bharati Museum and
the Ashutosh Museum of Indian Art are some of the museums that contain
invaluable and rare objects d' art.

Dehli

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.

Death Rituals of India

Knowing how a culture views death helps us understand many things about the
country and its people. Any time you plan on visiting a country outside your
own, it is good to learn about the basic thought patterns regarding such things
as birth, marriage and death. We will discuss death practices in this article.

In the philosophical Vedic text, the Bhagavad Gila, Krishna explains that at
death the sould passes into another body. Hindus traditionally cremate their
dead on funeral pyres, usually on the banks of the Ganges or other sacred
rivers. The ashes are later scattered there so the cycle of reincarnation can
be continued. While the body burns, priests seem to be indifferent to the
emotions of the families by bargaining over the price of each verse of the
Vedas, which is the sacred text, to be recited.

The oldest son performs the last rite at his parents' cremations, which
guarantees their release from this world.

The British banned sati, which was the ancient rite of a widow throwing herself
on her husband's funeral pyre, in 1829. This ban left widows shunned by society
and unable to remarry, even if they were very young. Even though it is illegal,
there are rare instances where sati is still performed. It is also still a
practice in rural communities to stigmatize widows.

Muslims view death differently than Hindus. They believe in resurrection after
death and they believe in both heaven and hell. It is for this reason it is
customary in Muslim communities to bury the dead rather than cremate them.

Whatever the religion, the rituals assigned to the dead are full of tradition,
often going back hundreds of years. Respect for the various rituals is a must
for any visitor to India. This is one area that both Muslim and Hindu place a
great deal of importance.

Beaches of India

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.

Architectural Wonders of Ahmedabad Ahmedabad is rich in architectural art.
Below we will explore four of these spectacular sites. Built by Ahmad Shah in
1423, Jama Masjid is the primary mosque of the Islamic era, situated at the
heart of the city. The mosque was built in the Indo- Saracenic architectural
era and is said to be the most beautiful mosque in the East. The mosque has 260
pillars supporting 15 domes arranged symmetrically. A special feature of the
mosque is the Muluk-Khana, or the Royal Gallery, which is a platform standing
on pillars and enclosed upto the roof with beautiful stonework. Named after the
Hindu wife of Sultan Mohammed Beghara, the Rani Rupmati's Mosque was built
between 1430 to 1440 A. D. It has three domes supported by pillars with the
central dome slightly elevated so as to allow natural light into the mosque.
The mosque has richly carved minarets, balcony windows and perforated stone
lattices. Its three domes are linked together by a flat roof. However, the
mosque and tomb of Rani Sipri at Astodia surpasses it for its planning and
structural arrangement. Popularly known as Masjid-e-Nagina, this mosque is the
most exquisite gem of Ahmedabad. Hatheesing Jain Temple was built outside Delhi
Gate in 1850 by Sheth Hatheesing, a rich Jain Merchant. This is the best known
of Ahmedabad's many ornate Jain Temples. Built of pure white marble, it has a
paved courtyard surrounded by an imposing row of cloisters containing 52
shrines, each with an image of a tirthankara, profusely decorated with rich
carvings, one containing the marble image of the 15th tirthankar. The temple is
a two-storied structure with elaborate porches on three sides and front porch
crowned by a large dome. It was designed by Premchand Salat and is dedicated to
Dharmanath, the fifteenth Jina or Jain apostle.

Ajanta Caves

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.

Ahmedabad: An Area Rich in History As we continue our tour of Ahmedabad, you
will find four more of the places that are rich in history. In this large city,
there is literally something for everyone. By the time you have explored even
half of what is available, you will agree that this is one of the richest
vacations you have embarked upon. The Calico Museum of Textiles is widely
regarded as one of the finest textile museums in the world. It was built in
1949. The Museum is home to at least five hundred years of the finest fabrics
spun, woven, printed and painted in different parts of India. It also has a
collection of marble, sandstone and bronze icons and busts. These latter
displays are split into two thematic sections-a gallery for religious textiles
and one for historical textiles. Kankaria Lake is circular lake constructed in
1451 by Sultan Qutubub-Din. At the center of the lake is an island garden with
a summer palace, known as Nagina Wadi. The lake is a popular recreation center
surrounded by parks, 'Bal Vatika', an aquarium, a boat club, a natural history
museum and a zoo. This is one of the most family-oriented places to visit and
you should plan an entire day for this. The Mosque of Sidi Sayed, near Lal
Darwaja is world-renowned for its magnificent stone tracery, in particular, the
splendid Jali screen, which is framed with ten semi-circular windows. It is a
fine example of Indo-Saracenic architecture and its models in miniature are the
best-known souvenirs of the city The Siddi Bashir Mosque is best known for its
Shaking Minaret or Jhulta Minar. When one minaret is shaken the other one
begins to vibrate. The mosque was obviously built by master craftsmen and the
crucial mechanism that causes the vibration is still a mystery.

A Time to Laugh

Whoever said laughter is the best medicine was taken very seriously. Laughter
clubs have been curing stressed out Mumbai residents so successfully, they are
springing up all over the world. We all need the chance to laugh and release a
bit of stress, even on vacation. Take a bit of time to visit Mumbai.

Hot, sweaty, sticky and frenetic, Mumbai doesn't leap out as being a
particularly amusing venue, but thanks to the side-splitting wisdom of a Dr
Madan Kataria, a number of 'Laughter Clubs' have been popping up to help us see
the funny side of having your bags nicked at the train station. In fact, their
role in the healing world in the past few years has taken off to other far
corners of the globe -- the USA being one popular destination.

In March 1995, Kataria thought of writing an article on "Laughter, the Best
Medicine" on the basis of a large amount of scientific literature that he found
on the benefits of laughter on the mind and body. Rather than publishing, he
went to a public Garden in Mumbai and spoke to people about starting a Laughter
Club. Those interested (only a few) stood in a circle and, under Kataria's
expert guidance, invited each other to crack a joke. All went well for a couple
of weeks until the jokes ran out. So Kataria set about developing ways to laugh
impromptu -- no gags necessary. Such are the success of his methods that they
are being imported elsewhere (visit the World Laughter Tour Website to find out
more), but if in Mumbai anyway, it's highly likely you'll need to re-boot your
sense of humour.

Although you can laugh with the professionals throughout the year, it may be
best to go when Mumbai is a bit cooler than normal (April to June).

A Look at India's Crafts

India is rich in artistic works. It is often confusing for visitors to this
country to decide just which crafts they will carry home with them. The choices
are many, widely varied and often inexpensive.

The finest quality merchandise can often be found in the bazaars that populate
larger cities such as Delhi, Munbai in Bombay, Kolkata in Calcutta and Chennai
in Madras. Literally thousands of places, from quaint shops to roadside stands,
sell crafts to visitors.

Rajasthan and Kashmir are the two largest producers of crafts made for mass
distribution. In Rajasthan, you will find bargains on fabrics, jewelry, glass,
pottery, rugs and camel-hide products. Carpets, shawls and embroidery dominate
the products produced in Kashmir. These are often considered to be of the
finest quality available.

The many tribal communities of India produce unusual crafts that are popular
with tourists. These crafts include wire animal tarakashi of Orissa and large
bronze sculptures in Nagaland. The Himalaya areas produce a vast amount of
silver, turquoise and coral jewelry.

Indian jewelry shops specialize in bright, 22-carat gold items. Many of the
local tribes trade in their traditional silver jewelry for the more widely
preferred gold. Often jewelers have bags of silver jewelry for sale by the
pound. Brass and copper are worked into trays, cups and plates. The best of
these can be found in Varanast.

No mention of India's crafts would be complete without a mention of Bidriwork,
a specialty of Aurangabad and Hyderbad. This craft is a matte gunmetal alloy
finely inlaid with silver and gold. It is then used in making boxes, vases and
huggas, or water pipes. These are sure to be treasured by all who obtain one.

This article only touches on the rich craft culture of India. Spend plenty of
time looking at the variety and choosing. You are bound to find the perfect
souvenir of your trip to India.






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