Mahashivaratri at Srikalahasti: Being the witness to faith

Maha Shivaratri celebrations of Srikalahasti are celebrated with gaiety and fervour. It is a major draw here. It does not matter if you are Shiv Bhakta or not, on Mahashivratri day of february 23 you must head for Kalahastiswara Temple at Srikalahasti and be witness to the spectacular sight of the sea of humanity descending for jal abhisekham of the lingam.

Srikalahasti is in the Chitoor district of AP just 36 km from Tirupati. Thousands and thousands of devotees congregate here from not only Andhra Pradesh but also from the neighbouring states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

Maha Shivaratri this time is also a bit special as this year it is coming on a Monday, the day of the lord. The festivities have already commenced at Srikalahasti with a ten day fair to mark the occasion. The whole town dazzles with huge illuminated cutouts of Lord Siva and the Linga.

The lord Srikalahasteeswara and his divine consort goddess Gnana Prasunambika are taken out in a colourful procession through the streets of the town. After that `Dhwajarohanam’ is performed. Later in the night ‘Lingodbhava abhiskam’ to lord Shiva takes place.

A great way to start the day before offering prayers to the lord is to take a holy dip in Swarnamuki River near the temple along with thousands of devout devotees.

Coming to importance of this ancient temple, supposed to have been built by the Chola dynasty, it is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is one of the panchabhootha sthalams. Temples of the Panchabhootha sthalams celebrate Lord Shiva as an embodiment of the five basic elements that universe is made up of. Lord Shiva is worshiped at Srikalahasti Temple as Vayu Linga. This observation of the Puranas is supported to this day with a flickering flame present in the Garbhagraha of the temple even though no wind can enter the shrine.

Another interesting piece of information for those interested in knowing the reason behind the naming of this place, as per legend Sri (spider), Kala (cobra) and Hasti (elephant) supposed to have worshipped Lord Shiva here and subsequently attained liberation (Moksha.) Hence then the place came to be known as Sri-kala-hasti.

So be there and make your Shivaratri a sacred affair to remember.

The Srikalahasti Temple of Lord Shiva

The Srikalahasti Temple of Lord Shiva

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Luxury Tax: Lets not ignore the fine prints

When was the last time you were out for a vacation or business? Strong chances are you are already traveling and reading this post on your laptop. Have you ever taken note of a small but mighty thing printed innocuously on one small corner of your hotel Bill? Perhaps you haven’t. You are not alone as tourist fraternity does not give this a thought and only when you have to loosen the purse string an entity called “Luxury Tax” start biting you. It is this tax that sometimes keeps one of your favourite hotel or destinations out of your budget.

Let’s understand what a luxury tax is. Luxury Tax is a tax that is levied by most of the state governments (not all) to fill their coffers at the expense of you and me. And the funniest part is, you have to pay it actually on the official tariff of the room where you had put up. Take a hypothetical situation consider you are on a holiday, say at Ooty and the Hotelwallahs happily gave you a discount of 20 % on the rack rate. The rack rate is the one that is mentioned on the reception and the usual official rate. Supposing accommodation you chose was for Rs 1500 and the reception lady smilingly gave you the room for 1200, a 20% discount as it was off-season. You felt on top of the world to strike a good bargain in the hard times.

Now when it is the time to say adieu and pay the bills you are up for a rude jolt. You find that on the bill a 14% luxury tax has been levied and that too upon the rack rate which in this example was Rs1500.

Furious with anger at the thought of being cheated, you start haggling. Alas, not much headway could be made and you have to pay the tax of 14 % as applicable for hotels in Karnataka on the rack rate.

Coughing the extra amount you felt helpless and started cursing the agency which booked your hotel or the hotel owners. Little did you realize that the LT not only irks the ordinary travelers but is adding to the woes of hoteliers and the travel agents. Hit by recession and terror the hospitality industry is facing a lull, the luxury tax is not making it any easier. Most of the time we at IHR have to face a not so amused client venting his ire at the exorbitant Luxury Tax after the holiday is over.

Luxury Tax is something which varies in India from 5 to as high as 25%. Let’s see which states of “Incredible India” are the worst offenders. In the South the charge is led by Kerala with a whopping 15 % slap of Luxury Tax and then it is Karnataka and Tamil Nadu with 12.50 %, Andhra fares better with a somehow moderate 5 %.

Gateway to north, the capital Delhi fares worst with a levy of 12.5 % on room rents above 1000. Himachal and Rajasthan the two most oft visited tourist destination taxes @ 10%. UP with the Taj Mahal and Uttarakhand is better not only in terms of attractions but also light on your pocket with 5%.

Coming to the west and Central India Maharashtra and MP leads the brigade with 10 % , while Gujarat it seems is not only a good destination for investors it is tourist friendly too with only 4 % as Luxury Tax. In Matheran, a lovely hill station 80 km east of Mumbai inaddition to 10 % luxury tax charges another 5 percent as service charges.

On the eastern front Orissa, Bihar and Bengal does not make life easier for visitors with a 10% LT. Finally the North Eastern States, one had seriously hoped that the State Governments to be as friendly and simple as the local people. Putting all hopes to water the onslaught is led by Asaam, the gateway to the seven sisters of NE with a luxury tax of 20 %. The situation becomes additionally worse in Guwahati with a levy of another 5 % as service charges.

By this time you might feel suffocated under a “burden of statistics” Hold on! After all our intention is not to hurt you or mar your vacations. There is something to cheer about also. The Union territories are not only scenic and make a nice vacation but they are not heavy on your purse also. So Pondicherry, Lakshadweep, Daman & Diu, Andaman & Nicobar Islands have not yet thought of burdening the tourists. They do not have a LT. One exception among the states is the vivacious Goa where good sense prevails and the tourists breathe easy without luxury tax.

The union Government must do something to cap the LT at an uniform rate at all the states. Till that time ignoring the one in fine print can….

Pondicherry a Zero Luxury Tax Destination

Pondicherry a Zero Luxury Tax Destination

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Ashta Vinayaka Darshan: On the Holy Trail and Beyond

The fabled Ashta Vinayaka Darshan is not just a simple pilgrimage but a rare glimpse into the Maharashtra hinterlands. After undertaking this journey we came out more knowledgeable and with a strange unanimity on the desirability of going through this journey once again.
All the eight temples of the Ashta Vinayaka fame are within a periphery of around 110 kms from Poona. We decided to stick to the chronological order of the Darshan route which starts with the Mayureshwara Temple at Morgaon and ends with the Chintamani Temple of Theur. Other Darshans in this sequence are Siddhi Vinayaka Temple at Siddhatek, Mahaganapati Temple at Ranjangaon, Vagnahara Temple at Ozar, Girijatmaja Temple of Lenyadri, Ballaleshwar temple at Palli and Varada Vinayaka Temple at Madh. En route Morgaon the Khandoba temple at Jejuri is the ninth attraction. Let’s start the trail of Chaturbhuj.
Mayureshwara of Morgaon: The God in a Fort
The first Ganesha Temple on the trail of Ashta Vinayaka is located in the small village of Morgaon also known as Bhuswananda Bhuvan. Morgaon is 64 km from Pune. Legend has it that lord Ganesha roaming on a peacock killed the demon Sindhu. Sindhu’s head fell here. The temple complete with four minarets looks almost like a fort from a distance. The Mayureshwar temple has a 50 feet high wall surrounding it. The temple shows a distinct influence of the Islamic architecture as it was built during the reign of Bahamani Sultans of Deccan. The idol here is small but appears bigger due to generous application of vermilion. It is flanked on two sides by the consorts Riddhi and siddhi while a Cobra encircles the head. Photography is not allowed as well as entry into the garbagriha. Another interesting aspect of the temple is the presence of a statue of Nandi, the bull, generally identified with a Shiva Temple.
Siddhi Vinayaka of Siddhatek: Lording Over Bhima
The Siddhi Vinayaka temple is located off the Pune-Solapur highway in Ahmadnagar district. Siddhatek is 98 km east of Poona. The temple on the banks of river Bhima is actually atop a hillock. A ferry ride to reach the Siddhi Vinayaka Temple is a good option. One interesting aspect of the idol here is that the trunk points to the right, the only one among the Ashta Vinayaka idols to be so. The idol is in a seated posture here and placed in a brass frame with intricate carvings. Here also entry into the Garbagriha as well as photography of the idol is not permitted.
According to legend the beautiful stone temple of Siddhatek overlooking the Bhima River is the very place where Lord Vishnu meditated. He received Siddhi from the Ekdanta before going on a battle with the notorious demons Madhu and Kaitava. , Daund Railway station On Pune-Solapur railway line is merely 18Km from here.
Ballaleshwar Temple of Pali: The Lord as a Brahmin
Ballal Vinayaka or Ballaleshwar temple is located at Pali 115 km west of Pune in the Raigad District. The temple is nestled between Sarasgad fort and Amba River. Here Ganesha is famous by the name of his devotee and is dressed up as a Brahmin like his young and ardent devotee Ballal. This is a temple where a rare phenomenon takes place on Equinoxes. On this occasion rays of the sun fall directly on the idol through the roof.
The temple faces east and has two sanctums with intricate wood work. Another attraction of the temple is a huge bell gifted by Chimaji Appa, the brother of Balaji Peshwa. Photography of the idol is not allowed inside the sanctum sanctorum. Sarasgod Fort is a nearby attraction but only if you are trekking buff.
Varada Vinayaka Temple of Madh: The Bestower of Progeny
The 4th temple on the Ashta Vinayaka Darshan is that of Varada Vinayaka. The temple located at Mahad or Madh near Khopoli is at a distance of 44kms from Pali. Mahad is 83 km from Poona and merely 63 km south east of Mumbai.
The temple premises are on one side of a beautiful pond. Here you can enter the Garbagriha (sanctum sanctorum) but taking snaps is not allowed. Here you can also find a small idol of Mushika, the carrier of the lord. In the same premises a small shrine can be found of Lord Data along with the idols of Navagraha and Shani Devta. Another attraction here is the Nanda deep, a magnificent lamp that is burning incessantly for a long time. The temple which attracts huge crowds during Magha Chaturthi is open 24 hours, something very unique.
Chintamini Vinayak of Theur: The wish fulfilling Ganesha
The Chintamani Temple at Theur is located around 25 kms from Pune on the Pune Sholapur highway. Theur lies at the confluence of Bhima, Mula and Mutha Rivers. The ride is smooth all the way. Legend has it that Prince Guna had stolen the wish granting Chintamani Gem from Sage Kapia. Feeling hopeless the sage turned to lord Ganapati. Pleased with the prayer, the lord brought back the jewel. However a gratified sage Kapila put it in Vinayaka’s neck. Thus the deity got its name Chintamani Vinayak. All this took place under a Kadamb tree that is why Theur was known as Kadambanagar in olden times. The atmosphere is very serene and the temple well maintained. The inner hall of the temple is replete with precious carvings. The sanctum also shows gold and silver inlay work. The other attraction is the palace of Madhavrao peshwe in a garden.

The Girajatmaja Temple of Lenyadri: The Lord among the Buddhist Caves
The sixth of the Ashta Vinayaka idols and in a most unusual setting is the Girijatmaja temple. Located in the Lenyadri village in Junnar Taluka the temple is set upon the Lekhan Hills in a cave by the banks of the river Kukdi. The cave is reached by a flight of 321 steps. This temple of the Ashtavinayak is the only one which perched on a high hill and is set in a Buddhist cave-temple. The drive itself is an awesome experience with sugarcane fields on either side and later on amidst the tall Eucalyptus trees.
There is a total of 18 caves here all of Buddhist origin with proof that they date back to even 3rd century. The Girijatmaja temple is carved out of a single stone without any pillar to support the 57 ft by 51 ft hall. Unlike other idols of the Ashta Vinayaka fame the gAnesha idol is bereft of any décor.
Legend has it that Parvati performed penance to beget Ganesha here hence Girija’s (Parvati’s) Atmaj (son) is Girijatmaj. This temple stands amidst a cave complex of 18 caves of Buddhist origin and is the eight Cave. A Buddhist stupa is also located just beside the main cave. Another nearby attraction here is the Shivneri fort where the legendary Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj was born.
Shri Vigneshwara of Ozar: The Remover of Obstacles
Vignahara Temple of Ozar is around 85 km from Pune via Narayangaon on the road that leads to Nashik. The drive through lush green setting is a refreshing experience. The temple is on the banks of the river Kukdi. The east facing temple is surrounded by a thick stone wall. The golden dome of the temple is possibly built by Chimaji Appa of the Peshwa clan to commemorate the victory over Portuguese rulers. Another attraction here is the water sports facility available in the River Kukdi. This completes our seventh Darshan.

Mahaganapati of Ranjangaon: The Lord to the aid of Mahadev
The last on the Ashta Vinayaka itinerary is the Mahagnapati Temple of Ranjangaon. The temple is located just 50 km from Pune on the Pune-Ahmednagar highway on the way to Aurangabad. The temple is very sacred as according to mythology Devadidev Shiva Shambho himself is supposed to have consecrated the Ganesha idol after worshipping him before he set out to kill the demon Tripurasura. Here also as in Ballaleshwar Temple of Pali during dakshinayan( Equinoxes) sun’s rays directly fall on the idol. Entry is not permitted in the Garbagriha but photography is allowed. A well and a small garden is located in the temple complex. After Darshan splurge on some tempting Batata Vadas, a local specialty.

Khandoba Temple: Paint the Town Yellow
Khandoba Temple atop the Jejurigad hill is a special attraction for those on the Ashtavinayaka Darshan. The temple dedicated to Lord Shiva as Khandoba lies 50 km from Poona and 16 km west of Morgaon, the first darshan. The temple can be seen from a quite a distance away on the Poona Satara highway. Yellow is the colour here. Devotees chant Yelkot Yelkot Jai Malhar throw generous quantiies of bhandara (turmeric powder) in the air in praise of the lord. That is why this place is also called as Sonyachi (Golden)Jejuri. Somwati Amavasya sees lakhs of pilgrims descent here. The stone temple is reached by a flight of 350 steps. Imposing deepmalas, a total of 145 line the flight of stairs. The temple is unique in design. This is because in terms of architectural lineages it shows a strong Islamic influence.The arches of the Sabhamandapa( sanctorum), the vimana (crest) with minaret-like structures along the four corners bears a testimony to that.

The main deity inside the sanctorum is that of Khandoba, idols of Mhalsa and Banu, the lord’s consort and the “Dvaya” linga are also seen.

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Set- jetters Paradise: Bollywood Tours and Filmi Chakkars in India

Remember a lovelorn Arvind Swamy in Blue Jeans and striped T shirt singing the soulful melody of “ Tu Hi Re, Tu Hi Re/ Tere Bina Main Kaise Jiyun” on the ramparts of a magical fort lashed incessantly by the sea waves under the fading lights of a monsoon sky. A desparate Shaila Bano aka Manisha Koirala unable to bear the agony of separation comes down running on the slopes of a tower in the fort. Guessed right, indeed it was Mani Ratnam’s Bombay, the biggest blockbuster of 1995.

Then there was Saif Khan romanticizing Vidya Balan amidst the huffing and Puffing of a train in the song Kasto mazza hai relaima/ Ramailo o kaali oraali in the movie Parineeta.

More recently in the movie” Jab We Met “Kareena was seen dancing to the hit number “Yeh Ishq/ Haan Hai Koi To Wajah/ To Jeena Ka Maza Yun Aane Laga “with a troupe of dancers from Himachal Pradesh in a verdant valley. The beautiful dancers were roped in from Chamba, Bilaspur, Kinnor, Dharamshala, Hamirpur and Kullu.

By this time, you must be wondering what this post is all about or what on earth does IndiaHotelReview.com has to do with Hindi Films or the songs we are talking about.

FYI, “Tu Hi Re” of Bombay was shot in the magnificent Bekal Fort in the Kasargod district of north Kerala, Parineeta’s song was very much in the toy train of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) while “Ye Ishq” with bollywood bombshell Kareena was shot in the verdant hills of Kulu Manali. All top tourist destinations.

Welcome to the world of Film tourism or ‘Set-Jetting’, a term that has become very popular abroad especially in Britain. Set- Jetting means that potential tourists are likely to get influenced and visit the places, restaurants, because of its appearance in the films or TV. Essentially it is an effort to capitalize on the ‘Screen Magic’.

According to researches made on film tourism it has been established that 8 out of 10 people have got their interest aroused in a particular destination by it’s presence on the film and 2 out of 10 will actually travel to the location of the film.

Not so long ago before the Bollywood directors and producers made a beeline for more glamorous locales offshore, Indian landscapes offered( still it does) great locations for outdoor shoots.

Ask your grand parents about how a boatman would point the place near Dhuandhar falls on river Narmada in Jabalpur where a charming Padmini frolicked in the water in the super duper film of the 60’s “ Jis Desh Me Ganga Bahti Hai “. In the 70’s flick “Aradhana”, Rajesh Khanna, the then heartthrob of many female fans wooed a gorgeous Sharmila Tagore on the slopes of Darjeeling Hills or more recently Amitabh Bachchan doing a Lolita in “Nishabd” with sprightly Jiah Khan in the very picturesque Munnar. Tea County in Munnar where Amitabh stayed was teeming with people to catch a glimpse of the superstar.

Not many know that “Chaiya Chaiya” presumably one of the best train songs ever shot for an Indian Movie in Mani Ratnam’s controversial “Dil se” was picturised on the train of Nilgiri Mountain Railways that runs between Mettupalayam and Ooty. This is a 46 km breathtaking journey across hair-pen bends and curves, tea gardens, dark tunnels, narrow valleys of lush green vegetations. During shooting lasting over a week Shahrukh sung his heart out atop this train over a period of 8-days.

By the way Ooty is also the place where hit films like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Saajan, Raja Hindustani, Maine Pyar Kiya, Jo jeeta Wohi Sikander, Raaj, Dil Hai ki Manta Nahin etc were shot.

While milking the Indian Film Industry has caught on the fancy of Tourist Boards abroad, unfortunately in India inspite of Filmstars enjoying status of Demigods and Films such a big passion, Set –jetting or it’s slightly skewed Hindi “ Filmi Chakkar” is neither very popular nor promoted aggressively.

It was amazing to learn that after “Kaho Na Pyar Hai” New Zealand made special efforts to woo Indian tourists or Britain is having a dedicated Bollywood map to trail the places where our stars danced or had an intimate tête-à-tête. It’s high time that we understand the potential of Set-Jetting and set the ball rolling with our very familiar or not so Known Bollywod Hotspots. Let’s start our Filmi Chakkar with Ooty.

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Perfect Breaks: Weekend Hideaways North of Mumbai

We are back again this week with more destinations off Mumbai. This time we decided to stick to NH8 and ventured north of Mumbai to make inroads into the territory known as North Konkan. Lo and behold! We came out with some startling gems of a destination – on and off National Highway 8 and further into the Gujarat Coast. We were greeted with myriad attractions ranging from hot springs, dense greens, Chikoo orchards, pristine beaches, meandering roads, sacred religious spots…. The attractions never cease. So stop dreaming and start journeying with us to these Konkan getaways and make the most of your weekends.

Marve, Manaori and Gorai: Beaches to Begin with

Marve is just 50 km north of Mumbai in the Thane district. Marve though is home to a large number of high society Mumbaikars but offers many things to enjoy for common mortals. Marve Beach is a tiny beach with clear waters. The Beachfront is filled with stalls selling fresh seafood. The place sees heavy rush on the last day of the Ganesha Chatuthi as immersions take place here amidst the sound of drums and chants.

Other attractions include low hills along the beach and the beautiful bungalows to envy upon. Look forward to magnificent views of sunrise and sunset.

Just across the creek from Marve, a fifteen-minute ferry ride will take you to Gorai and Manori. Gorai and Manori used to be the part of the Portuguese colony of Bassein.

Gorai Beach is a good place to have a swim but be careful as the waters are known to have strong underwater currents. Nearby attractions include the crumbling Holy Magi Church, Church of Our Lady of the sea at Utan and Esselworld, the amusement park.

Manori has 2 km long stretch of beach lined with palm trees and rows of seafront hotels is an ideal place for parties and picnics. Aksa and Erangal Beach are nearby attractions.

Vajreshwari: Get Soaked in Devotion and Hot Springs too

Vajreshwari is 81 km north of Mumbai and is a meeting place of devotees and weekend travelers. The Vajreshwari temple a relic of Maratha glory is the main attraction of this place. The temple is supposed to have been built by Chimaji Appa, the younger brother of the great Peshwa Bajirao I. to celebrate the fall of the Portugese Bassein(Vasai)n 1739.

The temple dedicated to goddess Vajreshwari stands atop a hillock and you can take your car halfway up the temple. Apart from the grand temple other attractions here include the cluster of Hot water springs at a place called Aklola a km away from the temple.

Ganeshpuri the place synonymous with the great saint Swamy Nityanand is 2 kms from here. Do not miss the Nityanand Mandir housing the Samadhi of Swami Niyananand and Sri Gurudev Ashram.

Palghar: Bask in Nature amidst the Chaos

A 3 hours journey takes you Palghar around 120 km north of Mumbai. Palghar offers some serene beaches for you to take leisurely strolls. The first point is a little known beach Shirgaon. The backdrop to the beach is formed by the imposing Shirgaon fort. This 18th century fort now almost in a ruinous state once housed the brave Chatrapati Shivaji and his soldiers. Nothing much to see on the fort though, other than catching a good view of the Arabian Sea and the Shiragaon village from the roof of the fort.

A 25 minutes drive through uneven narrow roads surrounded by thick trees takes you to Satapati Beach. The Beach is nothing unusual with a fish market very near. If you are a fish aficionado this is the place to be to pack some fresh sea fish before they are transported to Mumbai and sold at exorbitant prices. Local Ram Mandir is another attraction here. Another attraction of Palghar is the Kelva Beach stretches for 7 kilometers and is relatively a clean and unexplored beach. Rows of Suru trees line the beach. The16th century Portugese built Kelva Fort lies at the southern end of Kelva which is accessible only during the times of low tides. Good for trekkers, not advisable for persons with low energy though. Sheetladevi Temple is located very close to the Kelva beach. It houses a shrine with an unique idol of Goddess Devi. Kelva Dam is located around 10 kms away but the journey can be a bit tumultuous considering the roads.

Manor is 18 km before Palghar if you are coming from Mumbai. Manor is also known as the gateway to Kelva-Mahim coast. Manor is the confluence Point of Vaitarna River and its tributary Deherja. Do not miss the local Baazar here for striking some good bargains. A very scenic place but hidden behind the façade of secrecy is a pplace called Devkop that falls on the way between Palghar and Manor. Devkop Lake and the accompanying dam is almost picture perfect. Have a boat ride here, trust us you will remember it for a long long time.

Sajan: Awakening the Sleeping Beauty

The Sleepy town of Sajan is 134 km north of Mumbai and a slight detour from the NH 8. Sajan with the natural beauty as its USP provides the perfect getaway from the humdrum of urban stress. Palusa Waterfall 12 km from Sajan is a thrilling sight. The waterfall plunging from the height of 30 feet is shaped like a horse-shoe. The pool extending beyond some distance provides the perfect spot for a leisurely swim. However during the non monsoon months when the water dries up but the place is used in river crossing activities. A light trek across the jungle would lead you to Mohkrud Dam. It is one-and-a-half kilometres from Vikramgad. If you are in the right season then get ready to be greeted by a large flock of migratory birds. Another nearby attraction of Sajan is the Tiger Caves 16 km on the Vikramgad Manor Road.

Jawhar: The Cradle of Civilization

Jawahar just 25 km from Sajan and 166 north of Mumbai is the seat of the Warli tribals. “Nature at its very best”- that’s what sums up the innate beauty of Jawahar. Things to see here include the Jay Vilas palace, the residence of the tribal kings here. Then there is the seasonal Dadra-Kopra falls. Hanuman Point allows you to get a good view of the valley. Sunset Point is a vantage point here from where you can see one of the best sunsets ever. Shirpamal just outside Jawahar on the Nashik Road is as much sought after as a historic place as also for its riveting natural beauty. Besides, Jawhar is also known for its now world famous Warli paintings.

Bordi: Look beyond the Chikoo Bowl

Long stretches of white beaches, miles and miles of Chiku orchards and hospitable people makes Bordi a much sought after destination of the harried Mumbaikars. Yes Bordi has come of age in comparison to its better known neighbours of Dahanu, Umergaon and Daman. The prime attraction of Bordi is the 17 km beach. Here you can be at peace with yourself without getting disturbed by anyone. The Casurina Trees and The backdrop chikoo orchards add to the beauty of the beach. Nearby attractions include Dahanu 14 kms away and Umergaon (10 km). Dahanu- Bordi is 179 km north of Mumbai.

Silvassa: Drool to the old-world charm

Sandwiched between the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat, Silvassa still shows sign of the old-world and has an air of relaxation.. For the uninitiated Silvassa is just 185 km north of Mumbai. Silvassa very much part of the Portuguese control is yet to shed its colonial past fully. Infact the very name Silvassa has Portuguese connotations. Silva means ‘woods’ and ‘glades’ in Portuguese One of the remnants of the past colonial masters is the Our Lady of Piety Church located on the Naroli Road. Attractions of Silvassa include Hirwa Van or the Pipariya Udyan a fun place for kids with a mini zoo. 6 kms away is the Vanganga Lake and the Island Garden, complete with c wooden bridges, paddle boats jogging paths, thatched huts lures you for an old-world romance.

Just 25 Km away from Silvassa is a place called Nargol. Nargol with its breathtakingly beautiful coastline offers unspoilt virgin Beaches- all for you to explore

Daman: The last of the Portuguese Bastions

Daman our last destination is 192 km north of Mumbai. Daman also shows a strong Portuguese influence who left the place as late as in 1961. Daman is essentially divided into two parts Nani Daman and Moti Daman. Some of the attractions of Moti Daman includes Governor’s palace, Cathedral of Bom Jesu, The Church of our Lady, the ruins of Dominican Monastery. Satya Sagar Udyan offers a good place for evening stroll. St. Jerome fort is the prime attraction of Nani Daman. Devka Beach (5 km north of Daman) and Jampore Beach to the south of Nani Daman are the other attractions. Hope you enjoyed these journeys as much as we did.

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12 Escapades into the Konkan Coastline

Escapades into Konkani Territory

Escapades into Konkani Territory

Mumbai to Goa the 582 Km long route with vast coastline on the west and hills in the east is truly a fantastic experience. A journey along the NH17 into the Konkan country is nothing but a self discovery. Infact getting off the highway at periodic intervals and taking detours through state highways, village roads towards the scenic coastline of Arabian Sea is a mission in discovering spectacular virgin beaches, formidable forts of yore, breathtaking sceneries and lot’s more. So be it short or a long weekend, pack your bags and head straight for the Konkan country, this is one journey that you will not easily forget and want to undertake often. Get set and go…..Just one caveat the distances given in the diagram are not to scale.

Alibaug: Gateway to the Konkan Land
Just 113 km from Mumbai and you are into the first stop Alibaug. Alibaug is a perfect concoction of nature, history and religion. Apart from the Alibaug beach with the blackest sand of the region there is the once impregnable Kolaba Fort built by Chatrapathi Shivaji Maharaj, inside are 2 temples. Then there is Akshi a quiet beach 2 kms away. Nagaon beach is just 7 km from here you can take a boat ride to the twin forts of Khanderi and Undheri.
Kanakeshwar: The Gods in Silence
Kanakeshwar, on the Konkan coast is just 12 km from Alibaug. This is one temple where there is no clamouring, no brokering just peace. The famous old temple of Lord Shiva built in 1764 is the prime attraction here. The temple is atop a hill that is 1200 feet high and one has to take a flight of 700 – 750 steps to reach on top. On the way you will find Nagobacha Tappa and the famous step Devachi Payari. There is also a statue of Nandi, the bull, Brahma Kund and the Maruti Mandir.
Kashid: Mystic Calmness Wedged between the Hills
139 km from Mumbai, Alibaug to Kashid by the coastal state road is an exhilarating journey. The Kashid beach reaching into the seas is not exactly bustling with activities and perhaps that is its forte. Take a casual stroll through Casurina groves and cypress trees and loose yourself by forgetting about mundane life back home. From Kashid you could head for the ruins of the Revdanda Beach fort. This is an old portugese fort overrun by betel nut plantations still a gaping hole made by cannonball fire on the ramparts give a majestic view of the sea. The Korlai Beach and fort is also another nearby attraction from Kashid.
Around 19 km from Kashid is Phansad Bird Sanctuary as you drive inside you will find this place is much more than a bird sanctuary. The sanctuary spread over a 1000 hectares is home to a number of avian species.

Murud- Janjira: The story of the Invincible Fort
167 kilometers from Mumbai you reach the unconquerable fort of the Siddis the Janjira fort. The fort built some 350 years ago remains unconquered to this date despite attempts made by the British, Portuguese and the Marathas under Shivaji and Shambhaji. The attractions of the fort are Kalarbangdi, Gaimukh and Chavdi the huge canons, Bala Killa the central point of the fort.
The Murud Beach with white sands is the other attraction here. Once in Murud you can also visit the nearby Garambi falls just 4 km away.

Shrivardhan: The Birth place of Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath
Shrivardhan is 208 km from Mumbai and a 6 hours drive. Beaches, temples, historic monuments galore here. The Shrivardhan beach is long clean with black sands. The beach is not rocky and one can go up to a good distance into the water. Shrivardhan has some nice sightseeing on the outskirts. Just 5 km away from the Shrivardhan is the Kondivili Beach and the Shankar temple. The Kondivili beach is clean and unmarked by footprints. You can also take a look at the residence of Peshwa Baji Rao 1 on the Peshwa Smarak Road, though it is under the control of the local administration.

Harihareshwar: The Dakshin Kashi on the Konkan Coast
Very rarely is there a place in India that inspite of being a pilgrimage centre does not loose its pristine charm. Harihareshwar is one such place an ideal beach resort and an ideal pilgrimage point. The famous landmark here is the Shiva Kalabhairav temple built during the reign of Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. The next attraction is the tranquil Harihareshwar Beach split into two halves north and south by the Kalbhairav temple complex. Bagmandala just 4 km away is another attraction. By the way, Harihareshwar is 219 km from Mumbai.

Harnai and Anjarle: Konkan’s Best Kept Secrets
Harnai is 280 km from Mumbai. If you are done away with all the silence, the hallmark of the Konkani beaches then perhaps gearing up to frantic activities is not all that bad. Harnai is the epicenter of fishing activities. It is crowded with narrow little lanes. In the evenings as the fishermen return with their catches the place becomes very lively with the auctions on to sell the catch to the highest bidders. Tired with the cacophony of Harnai head straight for Anjarle some 15 kms away. Boats take just 5 minutes to reach. Anjarle Beach is quite a contrast to the hustle and bustle of Harnai. The place is quiet and it would seem that you are perhaps at your own private beach.
Guhagar: Outliving the ‘Enron’s Dream’
Well, we all heard of Dabhol Power Plant isn’t it, the dream project of Enron and how it vanquished after promising to change the local economy forever. The locals did not change but Guhagar 320 km south of Mumbai certainly became more accessible with smooth roads and better hotels. The entry point to the Guhagar beach has an element of surprise in it. Even if you are on its doorstep you will not realize how big it is. This is because the way to the beach is through narrow lanes, mud houses and finally a thick border of tall trees. All give an effective camouflaging to the Guhagar beach. The beach otherwise is calm and quiet with long stretches of white sand. “Nature at its best” that’s what sums up Guhagar.

Hedvi and Velneshwar: The story of the Beach and Temple
Hedvi and Velneshwar set apart by 5 kilometers are very near to Guhagar and around 370 km south of Mumbai. Both the beaches are fine examples of one-temple-one beach entity. Velneshwar is famous for an old Shiva Temple in the village centre, constructed in typically colourful Konkani folk tradition. However the Beach here is not the place’s USP with filth and squalor around.
Hedvi an hour’s drive from Guhagar is also known for the Beach and a temple. Hedvi Beach is nice, clean and desolated. Coconut trees line the beach. On the beachfront you can relax on the shelters made of dried palm leaves. Finished with the beaches you can head for the famous temple of Lord Ganesh. The temple built during the temple of powerful Peshwas houses the idol of lord Ganesha with ten hands. That is why he is known here as the Dashbhuj Ganesh. In close proximity to the beach is the famous Baman Ghal. It is essentially big fissure in the rock. During high tides, the sea water gushes through it making huge splashes.

Ganpatipule and Ratnagiri: God’s own Beach with history lessons
Ganpatipule and Ratnagiri is around 375 km south of Mumbai and well into the south Konkan territory. If Ganapatipule is all about Lord Ganesha, the affable god of good times, then Ratnagiri is walking down the History lane. Ganpatipule is best known for the Swayambhu Ganapati Temple. The lord Ganesha here is one of the Paschim Dwar devtas. Right outside the temple is the beach. The waters are supposed to be safe for swimming, but be careful. Gapatipiule excels in a number of exciting water sports activities which is a must do here. Do not miss out the fruits and sweets with very Konkani flavour. Jaigad Fort now in ruins 20 kms from Ganpatipule is also a must visit.
Ratnagiri a charming seaside town is just 25 kms from Ganpatipule. Other than the vast expanse of black sandy beach with a backdrop of a 15th century fort, it is famous for Alfonso mangoes, coconuts and jackfruits. If you get turned around by Sun Sea and sand Ratnagiri is the place for you. Mandvi Beach, Pandre Samudra, Bhatye Beach and Ganeshghule just 20 km away is the most beautiful of them all with white sands.
Get your history lessons right with Thibaw’s palace- the palace of the exiled Burmese King, Tilak Ali- the birth place of Lokmanya Balgangadhar Tilak now turned into a museum. You can also visit the Ratnadurg fort a short 10 minute’s drive, though now only in ruins still offers some peek into the past.

Devgad and Kunkeshwar: Gods love Mangoes
Kunkeshwar and the small detour to Devgad is all about Temple, fort, Beaches and the world famous picture perfect Hapus mango orchards.
Kunkeshwar is around 500 kilometers south of Mumbai. The main attraction here is the gorgeous temple of lord Shiva once worshipped by Shivaji Maharaj. The Temple stands majestically on the heavenly beach supposed to have been built by an Arab Muslim in gratitude. The beach clean and clear of any signs of habitat for miles is all yours to grab. The vast expense of the white sand, emerald waters of Arabian Sea with the backdrop of green hills in the east you will fall in love with Kunkeshwar. Devgad just 27 km from Kunkeshwar offers more sightseeings with temples fort and beach and the mangoes- as much as you can.
Devgad literally means the house of god and true to the name the place is lined with up with many temples. The Gajbadevi and Vimleshwar Shiva are the big temples of the place attracting a sizeable number of devotees. The Devgad beach is yet another beach from the storehouse of Konkani coastline offering some moments of solitude. You could spot the windmills in action from the beach. Just south of Devgad, blue waters of clean Tara Mumbri Beach is another attraction. If you are in the mango season get ready to be treated by the king of Fruits, mango. Devgad’s Hapus or Alphoso mangoes are renowned all over the world for sweetness and meaty pulp. By seeing the neat rows of Mango Orchards of Devgad it is hard to resist the temptation of plucking one. Another nearby attraction is Vijaydurg fort and beach.

Malvan and Tarkarli: Jewel in the crown of Sindhudurg
Malvan is around 540 km south of Mumbai and is part of the Sindhudurg district the southernmost part of Maharashtra. The whole area of the place still reverberates with the heroics and valour of the great Maratha – Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. The virgin beaches and rows of coconut palms are there to be grasped with both the hands. The main attraction here is the Shivaji’s own Sindhudurg fort that is built on Kurte Island. One of the prime attractions of the fort is the foot and hand imprints of Shivaji Maharaj and the Shree Shivchhatrapati temple. Malvan Beach is one of the active Beaches in the Konkan region with good number of food joints and a bar. Malvan beach is not your typical place to unwind and chill but remains the most easily accessible beach. Other notable beaches in the area include Chivra Beach, Achara Beach (22km north of Malvan) and Tondavali Beach (19km North of Malvan)

Tarkarli beach is around 6 kms from Malvan and can be easily termed as the little heaven by the sea. The white beach and the gentle clean waters would coax you to frolicking. Along with the beach, there a few coastal villages those worth a visit. So laze around, bask in the sun and enjoy Malvani cuisine.

Vengurla: The last of the unspoiled Paradises.
Lying at the foot of a green, crescent ridge, Vengurla 550 km south of Mumbai is our last destination. The state of Goa is very near to this place.
Besides the Sagareshwar beach, Vengurla is replete with historical forts, very old temples and quiet villages. Shri Sateri Devi Mandir and Shri Vithoba Temple are located at the village of Aravali some 10 kms away. Taking an early morning walk in the Casaurina- framed Sagareshwar beach is a heavenly experience.
Lighthouse perched on the hill overlooking the jetty should be your next stop .It offers a splendid view from the top. Vengurla Rocks or Burnt Islands, the fruit research center and the cashew factories of the area should be your next stops.

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The Year that was 2008: In Retrospect and Ahead

Please forgive me for writing this post quite a bit late and to be honest, in haste. As I am caught up in a lot of stuff that require my attention as and now I try to “peacefully” string up a few thoughts to put 2008 in perspective. Actually there are quite a few things to share about the year that was 2008.

The first thing that comes to mind is the Sales figure. As compared to 2007, we have registered almost double the sales. Considering the times we are in this is a remarkable feat! Surprisingly December, (Post 26/11) the fag end of the year was our best month that gave a boost to our sales.

Conversion of the leads is another area that has shown a tremendous progress. Our self made itineraries really caught on the attention of FITs (fully independent travelers). As a result conversion percentage is better and the numbers doubled.

Talking of Packages, there is a paradigm shift in the way they were organized. Better research, more budget hotels, and better places and voila! The results are just astonishing. We sold Kerala, like never before. Varkala, Bekal, Munnar, the Backwaters went on a spree. LTC packages for Port Blair and North East, a relatively late entrant (starting August) have also brought us as a significant player in these regions. We consolidated on our traditional stronghold of Bangalore and Chennai weekends, along with Honeymoon and Pilgrimage packages all showing an upward trend.

With 20 travel guides already live, Content is moving into new realm. Written from a budget traveler’s perspective the focus is on hot selling destinations. To encourage community participation there are options of photo uploads and comments on each page. The destinations virtually crisscross India with Katra, Corbett, Varkala, Manali etall. The year also marked the opening of our first retail outlet at Rawatbhata Kota on 26th October. Our travel voucher as a product has been established in the market.

Internally IndiaHotelReview.com – IHR has made quite a few structural changes, the UI of the site has been given a new look with more value additions. QnA with city experts and local guides has really taken off. Inspite of our limited branding through SEO, share of the market pie is getting better and bigger. Customer Support service is much organized now with transparency and increased level of customer friendliness. There is a drastic change from 2007 when we were just 1 year old.

Last but not the least the ambitious plan of Business development initiatives taken in 2008 harvested rich dividends. Not only we could get in the photographs of the hotel accommodation but it also helped in assessing the exact position and improving the communication with the hotel fraternity. This sums up our gains in 2008.

Looking ahead 2009

For the year ahead IHR plans to grow stronger and more focused. If 2008 was all about Sales & Community, 2009 could be the year of Community and sales in that order. Finally, you are as good as your team and that is what separates the boys from the men. Best Website of the year in pocket, Team IHR is the winner and that’s what I wanted this post to be all about.

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Corbett This Season: Travel Guide and the Saga of the Elusive Tiger

IndiaHotelReview.com– IHR’s second Travel Guide is all about Corbett, but if you think that reading this is your last chance to spot that elusive tiger then drop that ambition! It’s not in our hand and not the wild life guys can do anything about it.

Like umpteenth Travel Guides on Corbett we are not hell bent on providing you with the “101 tricks to catch a glimpse of Tiger”. Instead, we have stuck to the primary role of a safari guide. That is to interpret not reinvent the natural world as it is sans frills for his/her guests. Our Guide stresses on those “other things” that Corbett has to offer, which visitors in their overexcitement to spot the Tigers often misses out.

Call it what you will, we have tried to keep it crisp but informative. Our writers with a passion for people and wildlife beyond the ordinary traversed the whole terrain of Corbett National Park to bring out only first hand information, thus ensuring unbeatable and interpretive safari experiences that is in a league of their own.

Corbett this season is all about mating of Deers, casting a line to tempt the prize catch- golden Mahseer, the howling Jackals in the evening or early morning, imposing Sals, expanses of waving grass, wide gravel river beds, tall stands of teak and finally the ever “dodging” reclusive Tiger with full evidence to support that one was just ahead of me but……

Majestic Elephant ride at leisurely Corbett

Majestic Elephant ride at leisurely Corbett

So take a Jeep Safari, Canter safari or the majestic Elephant Safari, keep your eyes and ears open and remember a day without “sighting a Tiger” is equally memorable.

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Cool Choices for this Republic Day

Friends advance wishes for the Republic day. Long Live the Republic! If you find a little time to look at your Desktop Calendar for 2009 you will find that there is a long weekend ahead for you around this Republic Day.

If you do not have had ready any plans yet do not despair, we at IndiaHotelReview.com-IHR have made our own list of ultimate places that have recently piqued our interest this winter. These places are not typically “high on the must-go list” but if you trifle inclined to break the rules and head for the places “Where the world is not headed to “try these cool places out. Its one month so you could plan it well, and trust us – you will not regret.

Delhi Weekend: Leisurely Kosi and Lansdowne

Just 100 kms from Delhi Kosi is an idyllic retreat in the Mathura district the Birthplace of Krishna. Drive there and earn the much deserved rest from the rigmaroles of daily life. A bit heavy on wallet but there is nothing like having a good time in Country Inn.

Lansdowne, the quaint hill station is around 250 km from Delhi this sublime place charmed Britishers to the hilt now it’s your turn. Just take a leisurely walk in the sunset and feel all the difference.

Kolkata Weekend: Discovering Chandipur

Hey Kolkatans give Digha a passe, travel 314 kms and you are in at Chandipur in Orissa. Miles of fine silvery sand dunes, unobtrusive beach, shells and driftwood that’s Chandipur on Sea for you. It will make you long for more and provide more reasons than than one to return. Just one piece of information that would make you a proud Indian this Republic Day, it was from Chandipur Interim Test Range that the Agni Missile was launched.
Chandigarh Weekend: Historic Paonta Sahib

Just 132 kms from Chandigarh, the historic City of Paonta Sahib is thoroughly entrenched with the memory of the Tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh. It does not matter whether you are a Sikh or not but the majestic Gurudwara, the pristine waters of Yamuna and the Sal forest is sure to elevate your spirits. Just one piece of advice book early if you want to stay in HPTDC hotel.

Mumbai Weekend: Expedition to the Chikoo Kingdom- Bordi

Mahabaleshwar, Lonawala, Matheran sounds clichés isn’t it head for Bordi instead. Unbelievable but true Bordi is just 145 kms from Mumbai. Bordi offers a peep into serene beaches and picturesque Chikoo gardens. Reach here, do nothing and just enjoy the breeze and the soft sands. We bet it would be the best Republic Day you had in a long time.

Banglore Weekend: Aromatic Chikmagalur

The Coffee town of Chikmagalur is just 250 kms from Bangaluru. Depending on your liking you could enjoy a bit of trekking, pilgrimage wildlife all rolled into one. Very high on fun quotient. Mysore, Ooty rest in peace!

Bhopal Weekend: Mystical Narmada

Jabalpur, on the banks of river Narmada is 336 kms from the state capital Jabalpur. A boat ride around the Bera against the silhouettes of small marble hillocks is sure to make you romantic, while the gushing sight and sound of magnanimous Dhuandhar falls make you appreciate the bounty of nature.

Hyderabad Weekend: Nagarjuna Sagar Where Civilizations Meet

Nagarjuna Sagar the world’s largest masonry dam is incidentally also an important Buddhist centre. At 150 km from Hyderabad explore centuries old Buddhist civilization, Nagarjunasagar Lake and waterfalls this Repupblic day Weekend

Ahmedabad Weekend: Make a Wish-Ambaji

Ambaji is just 198 kms from Ahmedabad, located on the Arasur Hills the famous temple of goddess Ambaji is a wish grating Tree. Pray for a prosperous and powerful India this Republic day.

Chennai Weekend: Look Beyond Pondicherry- Karaikal

Get off the beaten track, think beyond Pondicherry. Karaikal is the place to head to. This former French enclave is 300 Km from Chennai and 135 Km south of Puducherry. Temples, Churches, Darga you name it Karaikal has it, besides it is dotted with a crisscross of rivers and forms the delta of the Cauvery River system.

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When the Tempest Hit IHR

18th December and a thrill of exhilaration swept across India HotelReview- IHR premises soon after it was fêted with the coveted title of “Website of the Year”. The air overwhelmed with festivities and merry making at the office quarter was followed by an extravagant rave party at Ankit’s residence.

IHRites in Full Steam

IHRites in Full Steam

The party began with grapevine and light chin wagging just when Priyanka, Team Lead, Sales, and wife of Ankit Rastogi, Business Head, India Hotel Review, announced a round of Dumb Charades. Half an hour later the show, inspired by some impromptu DJ-ing by Manish Sardana, Business Head, Vriti Interactive, it was time to hit the dance floors. Balls dropped and Champagne bottles ‘pop-opened’ at 8:30 in the evening, as the room scintillated with music. While some danced their hearts out to the rhythm others preferred to watch and enjoy. The dance commenced with English numbers, switching on to Punjabi Bhangra beats later, to which the crowd waved and danced wildly. Moreover, the party was livened up by the presence of CEO, Vriti Conglomerate Swapnil Shrivastava who shared the dancing floor with his little daughter. Dance session was followed by scrummy pizzas and loads of Beer. The party concluded with hurrahs and cheers for India Hotel Review by all invitees who sure were asking for more.

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