Mahabalipuram – Poetry in Stone

I recently visited Mahabalipuram, located on the East Coast, close to the city of Chennai, in the state of Tamil Nadu. It was not my first visit there, but the first one was a quick overnight trip and memories were a bit hazy. This time around, I spent over 2 days there and visited quite a few interesting places.

The first place we visited was quite a unique attraction – a Seashell museum. This is the life’s efforts of a private collector, exhibited quite beautifully in a modern museum. The collection is stupendous, and really photos will not do justice to the place, but here are a few.

The next day, we visited the Panch Rathas. It was a bright, sunny (and hot) day. We visited the place in the morning and were among the first visitors, so got to see the place at leisure and without much crowds. The place is very well maintained, with ample parking space, toilets, etc. Kudos to the authorities for doing so.

In the afternoon, we first visited the Lighthouse. On the way, we took in the utterly delightful Heritage Museum. With exhibits largely from the nearby lighthouse housed in a beautiful small house like structure with cool air conditioning, this would easily rank as one of the best small museums I have ever visited anywhere. An absolute must visit.

The whole process of visiting the Lighthouse was quite exciting, with the climb up a narrow, twisting staircase to walking around the narrow ledge with great views across all directions of the compass. Be warned though that it is not for the fainthearted!

We then visited the group of monuments centred around Arjuna’s Penance. The stone structures and sculptures are simply stunning. We ended our visit at Krishna’s Butter Ball. Located within well maintained, lush green lawns fringed by trees, this is a popular destination for local families.

On the third and final morning, we visited the beach located to the north of the Shore Temple. It is a working fishing village, with relatively clean sand and waters. The kids and I enjoyed splashing in the waves!

The only slight disappointment was the food. I had expectations of finding a food scene similar to what one can find in Goa, or even Pondicherry, but was sorely disappointed. The food in the restaurants was uniformly mediocre as was the service. Maybe it was because I visited in the off-season. But all things considered, it is a great place to visit with family.

On Museums

I read an article today in the Hindustan Times about family-run museums. It was an interesting article. I personally find it a bit sad that we in India do not have much of a museum visiting and appreciating culture. Many people, I believe, just do not think of museums are not seen as a must-visit place. It could partly be because our memories of museums, from the time when we used to visit museums as part of school trips, are of dusty places with old artifacts gathering dust.

But the reality is different. Yes, I am sure there still exist some museums where it feels like time has stood still. A good example of this is the Jaganmohan Palace Art Gallery in Mysore. With its priceless paintings of Raja Ravi Varma and others, it would have been a must visit destination in many Western cities. But here, while it had a good crowd of visitors, the exhibits themselves looked in urgent need of some tender care. It would be a shame if these works of art are lost to future audiences due to apathy.

On the other hand, there are many good museums dotted around the country such as the HAL Museum in Bangalore, the Archaeology museum in Hampi, the Naval Heritage Museum and Seashell museum in Mahabalipuram, which are as good, if not better, than many museums that I have been fortunate to visit across the globe. These have interesting exhibits displayed in a clean space with ample facilities. But unfortunately, other than the first one which had a decent crowd the day I visited, in the others, we were pretty much the only people there.

I believe museums have a very vital role to play in the preservation and dissemination of the culture of a place, especially when that culture is in serious threat of vanishing under the ever expanding tentacles cast by the homogenisation of culture due to globalisation. Museums are a place where we can still feel connected to our roots. It is hard to not feel a sense of pride when we observe the Indian exhibits at the British Museum in London, placed alongside similar exhibits from culture around the world.

So a humble request. The next time you visit a place, in India or anywhere in the world, please do take some time off to visit a local museum. If you have kids or youngsters under your care, please take them too and let them soak in the experience and help them understand the significance of the exhibits. Let’s take some small steps to help preserve the memories of our rich culture and heritage.

Prague

It’s always been on my bucket list to visit the beautiful cities of Eastern Europe. So, during the Easter weekend of 2012, we decided to visit Prague.

It was grey and bitterly cold even in April, but the place was crowded. But still, we managed to visit the key sites of this beautiful city, without any hassle from the crowds.

I also enjoyed a late evening stroll, enjoying the stunning architecture of the old city.

Some photos from the trip below.

Prague cityscapes:

Prague Castle:

Old Town Square:

Palace of Versailles

We spent a whole day here and it was a day well spent indeed. We took the train out to Versailles and walked through the town to reach the Palace.

The Palace of Versailles is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The scale and splendour of the Palace has to be seen to be believed. The mind boggles at the thought of the time and money it would have cost to build and maintain.

The Palace is situated within sprawling gardens. Unfortunately, being winter when we visited, the gardens were quite bare. But we could still appreciate the geometrics patterns of the layout and admire the many sculptures and fountains that dot the gardens.

Some photos of the Palace taken on a grey, gloomy day.

Palace of Versailles
Palace of Versailles
Versailles Garden
Cherubs – Versailles
Versailles Gardens
Gardens – Versailles

Towards more sustainable travel

I love traveling and think it’s a great way to refresh, recharge while at the same time learning more about different places and cultures. So I was a bit unsure how to react to this news article – http://www.dnaindia.com/just-before-monday/report-the-ugly-side-of-travel-is-your-hobby-leaving-a-massive-carbon-footprint-behind-2645694

As kids, I remember our annual summer holidays where we would take the train to travel to grandparent’s place. The train journey was as much part of the holiday as meeting family. Maybe one option is to try and take more sustainable modes of transport while holidaying, wherever feasible.

The first holiday we took when we moved to Bangalore was to Mysore. And we took the train rather than a car. We took the Shatabdi and it was extremely comfortable and stress free. Similarly, when we took a trip to Kerala, we took the train one way. Kids enjoyed the experience of an overnight train, sleeping in ‘bunk beds’, as they called it!

Yes, it is not always possible in this day and age, when time is in such short supply. The impact of travel and tourism on sustainability is a topic that I am very interested in, and will look at in more detail.

If you have any suggestion, ideas, please let me know. Thanks!