Ahilyabai Holkar: the people’s ruler, the people’s goddess

Queen, warrior, social reformer and saint: I had never heard of Ahilyabai Holkar until we saw a statue of her in a park in Indore. I looked her up on Wikipedia then and there.

Photo of statue of Queen Ahilyabai Holkar in Rajwada Chowk, Indore, Madhya PradeshGlancing up from my phone to tell Alan what I’d learned, I saw a man standing before the statue of Ahilyabai, his hands folded in prayer. I watched as he prostrated, then sat in meditation at her feet. That’s when I understood Ahilyabai is much more than a historical figure, or even a heroine: She is a goddess.

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Surprised by Indore

Photo of a mother and daughter who jumped into our rickshaw in Indore, Madhya Pradesh.
This mother-and-daughter duo jumped into our rickshaw our first morning in Indore. We enjoyed a chat (and a few selfies) before they jumped out to shop.

I didn’t expect much from Indore. The city doesn’t seem to get a lot of love from the Rough Guide authors, nor from reviewers on TripAdvisor. So I just thought of Indore as a large Indian city marred by traffic, noise and pollution.

Yes, Indore is large, and yes, there’s plenty of traffic, along with the attendant horn honking and bad air. But the streets of inner Indore are highly rewarding for anyone who loves to walk and look, a fascinating mix of colorful clothing and jewelry shops, small vegetable markets, temples and mosques, and traditional buildings in varying states of decay.

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Kasar Devi Mandir: the peak of Almora

Kasar Devi Mandir, Kasar Devi, Almora, Uttarakhand
Kasar Devi temple at Kasar Devi Mandir. The boulder on the right shelters the cave where Vivekananda meditated.

Kasar Devi Mandir is one of the most popular temples to visit in the Almora area, and indeed in Uttarakhand. We’re lucky that we have been living just three kilometers from the temple for the past few weeks. But even before we moved to Papershali, we walked the seven kilometers of uphill road from Almora to Kasar Devi a few times, drawn by the beauty of its setting and the peaceful shakti of the place.

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A hidden valley, a sky temple and a natural lingam-yoni

A typical lingam and yoni arrangement for worship of Shiva
Lingam and yoni in a temple, with lingam-like rocks found in nature arrayed on the shelf behind.

Over the years I’ve seen many examples of Indian religious symbols that occur in nature – things like the coco-de-mer, or rocks that resemble a Shiva lingam arranged in a temple and anointed with vermilion, just like formal sculptures of gods.

But up to now, I’d only seen these things in photographs, or displayed in a temple or museum. So it was special to discover for ourselves, a few days ago, a symbol of Shiva-Shakti in a mountain stream.

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Nanda Devi Mandir: a refuge in busy Almora

One of Nanda Devi's two thousand-year-old temple towers, and its ancient peepul tree. Almora, Uttarakhand.
One of Nanda Devi Mandir’s two thousand-year-old temple towers, and its ancient peepul tree.

Alan discovered Nanda Devi Mandir (“mandir” means “temple” in Hindi) during his first week in Almora, before I came to join him in India. We returned to this temple time and time again while staying in Almora, and now that we are living in a nearby village, we visit Nanda Devi whenever we’re in town for shopping or errands.

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Chandika Mandir in Bageshwar: a short urban hike

View of Chandika Temple high on a hill above the Saryu River, Bageshwar, Uttarakandh
View from Bhagnath Temple. Chandika Temple is on the right peak; zoom in and you can just see the buildings.

After arriving in Bageshwar yesterday afternoon from Almora, we were tempted to climb up to Chandika Mandir, a beautiful temple sitting atop one of the peaks that mark Bageshwar’s location at the confluence of the Saryu and Gomti rivers.

But after nearly four hours on a bus, with a speaker directly over our heads belting out Hindi film music, we really needed a nap. So we walked around Bageshwar for an hour or so, ate lunch, and had our rest, planning to make our Chandika Mandir visit the next morning.

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Morning walk to Gurudwara Bangla Sahib in New Delhi

Morning worshippers at the holy pond of Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, New Delhi
One corner of the holy pond. A few selfies were taking place here.

We wake up early, which is fortunate during the hot season. It’s been about 41° C here at the hottest time of day since I arrived two days ago, and humidity is high – nearly 50 percent. So getting out early for a walk is a good idea. Even at 6:00 AM, which is when we set out today, I was mopping myself with a handkerchief by the time we stopped for tea.

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Gokarna: Beaches and temples

Gokarna Beach, viewed from the south headland
Gokarna Beach, viewed from the south headland.

The cyclone that hit Kerala days ago, roiling the surf here at Gokarna, has finally arrived. We sit in the Prema restaurant, enjoying a cup of tea while we wait for our lunch to arrive. Wind drives rain against the small shops and tall coconut palms, and in sheets across the street. Deep puddles grow deeper, and even the vagrant cows huddle together under shop awnings, reluctant to emerge in such conditions. We drink tea, we eat slowly, we order more tea, as we wait for a moment when the rain pauses.

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