Saturday, August 29, 2015

Same Day Last Year - Batu Caves

‘On this day’, ‘Revisit this day’ and God knows how many more of these apps have made their way into our lives through social media. I agree we do need a reminder for some days but today – last year i.e. 29th August 2015 is one such day I would not forget even after 20 years. Last year same time I was marveling a huge statue of Lord Murugan, playing with tropical birds and experiencing the effect of standing under the tallest twin towers of the world. No brownie points for guessing, but last year same time was my first day in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. My very first FAM trip! So to mark this one year anniversary, my blog is all about the first place I visited in Malaysia.

Malaysia is well known around the world for its long labyrinth of limestone caves. One of the most prominent of the caves, Batu (Batu means rock) Caves, which gets its name from the Batu River that flows at the foot of the hills with the caves) is about 11 kilometers from Kuala Lumpur, in the Gombak Region, and this was our stop one in the Malay Land! These caves house the second most famous and most visited Hindu temple outside India, dedicated to Lord Murugan aka Kartikeya. And guess what, we visited this temple on the auspicious occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi.

The main temple at Batu Caves is said to be more than 100-year-old and the limestone formations are said to be around 400 million years old. But if the timeline fails to convince you to visit this place, the majestic 42 ft golden statue of Lord Murugan, which keeps you company till you climb the 272 steps to reach the main cave temple, would surely convince you.

Batu Caves are not only a major tourist attraction, very close to Kuala Lumpur, it is also one of the most sacred temples of South East Asia and sees a footfall of almost a one lakh piligrims during Thaipusam. Thaipusam is a festival that usually falls during the first week of January. During Thaipusam the procession of devotees with ‘Kavadis’ is said to be a vibrant spectacle, though not for the faint hearted as devotees walk up to the temple in a trance with needles and skewers pierced all over their body.

On regular days, if you are lucky and the caves are empty, you can explore this huge complex which has much more to offer. Other than the main temple, the cave chamber at the entrance has rock cut sculptures of different parts of Ramayana. Close by, there is another cave, also called the Dark Cave or Bat cave which is a much deeper and narrower cave chamber and you can explore it only with a local guide. Batu Caves are also a very well-known rock climbing site, so yes if you are an adventure junky you won’t be disappointed.

How to reach: - Batu Caves is easily reached by the Metro using the Batu Caves-Port Klang Route, costing RM 2 for a one-way journey from KL Sentral. Batu Caves or by bus 11/11d from Puduraya.

Note: - The site has a lot of long tailed macaques, so be vary of your personal belongings and avoid flash for photography. Also as it is a South Indian temple, appropriate dressing is a must. (Shorts and spaghetti tops are a total no no!) 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Asus DivasMeet - Mumbai

As a travel blogger and photographer there are times when I get extremely tired of carrying my heavy SLR around. I always thought iPhone was the alternative. But recently Asus has been a dark horse in this case. With its Zenfone range Asus has already garnered enough attention in the cellphone market, but now it is determined to not just retain its current customer base but entice a larger crowd than ever before.

Asus India had recently launched its Zen festival in 5 cities across the nation - first one being the most extravagant one in Delhi. Out of the others, Mumbai and Bangaluru were an all diva affair. They weren’t being sexist or anything, but trust me, the phones that were releasing in both the cities were more for the photo crazy, selfie obsessed ‘Divas’. And the events also saw fashion centric session by VJ Anusha Dandekar. So it is safe to say that the whole launch event at ITC Grand Central Mumbai was an event of Divas by Divas for Divas. And yes you guessed it right, I got a chance to attend the ‘festival’ in Mumbai – which by the way was ‘invites only’!

But to be fair to all, I will not make people go green with envy with details of the event, rather I am going to discuss the phones and a small tiny cute and amazing accessory in this post. Mr. Peter Chang, MD of Asus and his team-mate Mr. Charles gave us the first hand demo and information of five of their new products. They introduced us to Zenfone Laser, Zenfone Deluxe, Zenfone Selfie Zenpfone Max and ZenPad 7.0 and ZenPad 8.0.

ZenFone 2 Deluxe:
ZenFone 2 Deluxe is a beautiful handset with multifaceted polygonal finish accentuating the signature ZenFone 2 Ergonomic Arc design but at the same time is equally powerful with a battery life that is also supported by ASUS BoostMaster fast-charge technology for 60% capacity in just 39 minutes. With a 13MP camera, Asus photo editing modes and 4G/LTE connectivity this is surely in the race with iPhone to be in my travel kit soon.

ZenFone 2 Laser
ZenFone 2 Laser is another one with 13MP PixelMaster camera but with an f/2.0 wide-aperture lens to capture stunning, high-resolution photos with zero shutter lag — augmented by laser auto-focus technology that empowers users to capture perfect clarity in just 0.3 seconds – yes this is a photo junkie speaking! ZenFone 2 Laser also incorporates the toughest Corning Gorilla Glass 4 means no scratch gaurds needed – scratch them out.

ZenFone Selfie
ZenFone Selfie was the craziest of the lot with dual 13MP PixelMaster cameras (back and front), dual-color, dual-LED Real Tone flash both front and rear, plus laser auto-focus for ultra-fast shots with complete clarity. With a back button for selfie clicks and an in built front flash for selfies this phone is a dream come true for selfiedom dwellers! And the front camera has an 88-degree wide-angle lens to let you go crazy with selfie panoramas. The unique Selfie Panorama mode enables selfies with an outlook of up to 140 degrees. ZenFone Selfie also delivers superb macro photography that works on subjects as close as 6cm, plus rear laser auto-focus to compose shots in the blink of an eye. Yes, though not a selfie lover, I want this phone!!!

ZenFone Max
ZenFone Max has an incredibly-long-lasting high-capacity 5000mAh lithium-polymer battery so max talk time, max internet time and max phone time.

And now come the accessory – Lolliflash!
Cute like its name, this tiny device with its two embedded powerful LEDs is a game changer for mobile photography. Easy to carry and integrate, this can make any cellphone with a good camera way better than a point and shoot.

And this is what I learnt about Asus’ new product base in the meet. I have already told you about the phone that really caught my attention. Which one would you pick of these?

P.S. - All photos were provided by Asus India.

You can order any phone from this new range from flipkart. (Click Here)

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Rock Cut Caves of History and More - Mahaballipuram

As you travel from Chennai towards Mahaballipuram, on the East Coast Road, a stillness in time sneaks up on you. Long drive, sea breeze and occasional stir from the nearby roaring sea slow down time and drift you away to some old century, which you realize only after entering the realms of Mahaballipuram or Mamallapuram.

This small town, roughly 30km from Chennai, holds great significance in the history of India and almost every turn on the road of this town would remind you that. Small, large rock and clay sculpture shops draw your attention till it is completely captivated by a whole arena of rock cut structures that date back to 7th-9th century. Mahaballipuram Group of Monuments are listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites, and rightly so because the monolithic structures found here are one of the earliest and finest examples of Dravidian architecture. These monuments are believed to be built during the Pallava Dynasty, when Mamallapuram was a prosperous port. Just the thought of these structures being so old and a look at the intricate details on them would leave you spellbound.

Arjuna Relief Carving
At the very beginning of the main structure complex you would be greeted by a huge relief carving of Arjuna’s penance for receiving the weapon Pashupata from Lord Shiva. But during my visit there, I heard one of the guides telling people that the carvings depict Bhaghirath’s penance to get Ganga on Earth. But since I didn’t really see a river, I believe the Arjuna theory. If this seemed to confuse you, walk ahead to be puzzled by Krishna’s butterball, which is a single boulder balancing on a small rock hillock since ages.

One of the Rathas
But the main attraction of this campus are the 9 monolithic Rathas and temples which were hidden under sand and were rediscovered just 200 years back. There five Rathas, all standing individually, are believed to have been carved from a single large rock and each, dedicated to a Hindu god, is now named after one or more of the Pandavas and their wife Draupadi. Other than the Rathas, the Varaha Cave, dedicated to lord Vishnu’s Varaha avatar, is known for its wall carvings. Varaha cave is also the only temple in the campus where even today worship is offered on a regular basis.

Tridev Caves
The other temples are Mahisamardini mandapa, Tridev caves and the Krishna cave which belong to the Mahendra period. Another interesting fact about these temples is that they were apparently plastered and painted during ancient times. Just the thought of paints in the past kid of left me in awe.

The campus also has a lot of other structures that depict sections of Vishnu Purana and some unfinished caves but by the time you are done admiring their beauty, you might find yourself lost in history and barely have any track of time. For me roaming around the stone wonders and listening to the stories of the guides was the best way I could have passed that winter morning.

Carvings in Varaha Cave
I did spend the rest of my day roaming around the town, visiting a comparatively newly built Jagannath Temple about 10Km from Mahaballipuram and listening to the villagers’ horrific experiences of the 2004 but as evening drew near I found myself pulled back to Mahaballipuram. Guess the time lag grew on me and I spent the evening, visiting the Shore Temple and spending my time on the Mahaballipuram shore admiring and pondering over the brilliance of our ancient architects and what other wonders of Mahaballipuram were submerged in the sea. For culture, history and architect lovers, Mahaballipuram is a sure visit when in Tamil Nadu.


Best Time to Visit Mahaballipuram is during winters (December-January) and there is an entry fees for the sites.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Caving Paradise of India - Meghalaya

And I am back from a pretty long hiatus with today's topic - Caves. 

Normally when Indians hear this word they think of Ajanta and Ellora, art, sketched out stone walls and history. There is no doubt that history of India and caves have had a long colorful and rich connection but did you know India has a very interesting set of naturally etched caves? In the secluded north east corner of our country, amidst the symmetric heights of the Garo-Khasi-Jantia range, draped in slow moving clouds in Meghalaya, are a number of caves carved and guarded by nature. These caves are not famous for some history period or for man-made carvings, but rather for limestone stalagmites and stalactites.

Last year, during my visit to Meghalaya, I did manage to explore one of the many explored caves near Cherrapunjee. Oh yes, there are many unexplored caves too in Meghalaya making it a cavers paradise! The explored caves range from 250m to 6Km while specialists say there are many deeper caves that are yet to be explored. Anyways the one I got a chance to admire is about 750m in total and is called the Mawsmai cave. The cave is a famous tourist spot in Cherrapunjee and it is the only cave that is illuminated for about 250m. During rainy seasons the walls and cave floor glisten with water but during winters, which by the way in the best time for caving in Meghalaya, the cave is not even dangerous and can be navigated easily if you are not claustrophobic. 

Anyways if you guys do plan to visit Meghalaya and want to satiate your adventurous self here is the list of caves in Meghalaya you should visit.
  1. Krem Mawmluh: It is one of the most famous caves of Meghalaya and is close to Cherrapunjee. The entrance is easily found by following a river and the cave is where the river disappears underground. Guess now you can imagine how the cave is! The main sink entrance requires wading through water, which in the dry season turns into black quicksand from the effluents of the cements works. You can also enter the cave through a high level bypass entrance which runs parallel to the main passage. And the reason to visit this cave is the obvious limestone stalagmites and stalactites.
  2. Krem Lymput: About 6 km from Nongjri, this cave is one of the longest in Meghalaya. Though it is classified as an easy cave the entrance is rather small and for about 1 km the walls and ceiling of the cave are loose and slippery to climb. But post that there are a series of spacious galleries which are very rich in calcite formations. The great attraction is here is a camber called the Mughal Room which is more than 25m wide, 25m high, and 75 m long).
  3. Synrang-Pamiang: This cave is situated near Chiehruphi and is known to be the most beautiful natural cave of India. With 14,157 m of surveyed passage, it is currently India's 3rd longest cave. The wet crawl entrance passage leads to about 500 m of very awkward boulder strewn passage which is followed by one of the world’s finest cave passages. This 7.63km long meandering stream-way (Wah Lariang), is probably one of the world's longest single cave passage. The cave is very rich in formations coloured in orange, red, black, grey, blue, green and white. ‘Titanic Hall’ chamber would rank as one of the most beautifully decorated chambers anywhere in the world with ' thousands of large cave-pearls lying scattered on the floor. The cave has five entrances with the other four being Krem Musmari, Thloolong Cherlamet, Krem Eit Hati and Krem Khlieh Trai Lum. [1]
  4. Siju Cave: Also known as the Bat Cave – This cave is about 130 kms from Tura and has many impressive stalagmites and stalactites. It also has a river passage and this is the cave most of the Meghalaya tourism posts or caving in India posters show. This cave is specially known for the spacious chambers that are full of amazing calcite formations. Navigating this cave requires a local guide.
  5. Krem Mawjymbuin: This cave is very close to Mawsynram and hence is a very famous tourist spot. A stalactite and stalagmite formation of the cave bears uncanny resemblance to a Shiva Lingam and as there is a small stream flowing close by the camber resembling Ganga, this cave has become a sacred shrine for Hindus. Due to its popularity and ease of access and navigation, this cave is not only for travelers and adventure junkies but also for tourists.

There are many other caves that one can explore in Meghalaya, but according to me and according to what information I could gather from the locals of Meghalaya, these five are a must visit.

P.S.- All photos used in the post are personal.