Listicle: Lake side cities from India 360

India is country with several lakes. Major cities in India have lakes as sources of water. Mumbai has Powai, Tulsi and Vihar. Bengaluru has Ulsoor and Madivala. Chennai has Chetpet, Ambattur and Chitalapakkam. Pune has Khadakvasala and Pashan. But, these are just lakes within cities. Certain localities within these cities surround the lakes instead of the city itself being founded due to the lake. In this post, we look at _ cities whose reason to start, develop and flourish is due to a large natural lake in the centre or to one side. We are also excluding cities where the lake was artificially formed after the city was already founded e.g. Hussain Sagar in Hyderabad, Shibsagar (Assam), etc. While there are several such cities in India, we focus on the ones that we visited in India 360 and can help you with.

Chandigarh

Sukhna lake promenade, Chandigarh

India’s first planned city post-independence is deliberately situated near the Sukhna lake. The city was made to be near a large water body right from the outset. It was planned to be roughly equidistant from New Delhi and Amritsar. The foothills of the Himalayas at Shimla was observed to gather all the water from the rain in the area and also molten snow. This led to the catchment area of Sukhna lake. This lake forms the basis and the water source for the city, which has since flourished with its own unique features like the Rock Garden and the International Doll Museum.

Nainital, Uttarakhand

View of Nainital lake by night.

A flat basin on a small plateau in the southern end of the Kumaon mountains in Uttarakhand acts as a catchment. Geographical reasons aside, the Naini lake or Naini Tal is so named because it is believed to be the Shakti Peeth where the left eye of Goddess Sati fell. The lake forms the centrepiece of the British-built hill station and is popular for boating and yatching. The main road adjoining the lake is named Mall Road. This road is closed to traffic for certain hours every day and forms a lake-side promenade with plenty of shopping options. The Gobind Ballabh Pant Zoo, simply referred to as the Nainital Zoo, has an interesting collection of animals ranging from small birds all the way to big wild cats.

Kodaikkanal, Tamil Nadu

Kodaikkanal lake

The Western Ghats form a natural border between Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The mountains to the south of the pilgrimage town of Pazhani in Tamil Nadu have a valley which led to the formation of a large lake collecting the rain water from the ample monsoon in the area. The British saw the opportunity to build the town of Kodaikkanal to get away from the heat of nearby Madurai city, which they used as their industrial base. Kodaikkanal lake is surrounding by beautiful pine trees and is nearly always covered by a layer of mist, making it a very beautiful and romantic sight. There are several activities in the town including boating, waterfalls and viewpoints.

Sawantwadi, Maharashtra

Moti lake at Sawantwadi.

Moti lake at Sawantwadi.

A small Marathi speaking dynasty known as the Sawanta Bhosale ruled a region in present day Sindhudurg district in Maharashtra. The capital of that princely state was the town of Sawantwadi. Their palace can still be seen in the town which is a mere 20 km from Goa state. The palace was chosen to be built by the bank of the Moti lake or Moti Talao, the centrepiece of the city today. The lake is formed by the monsoon water of the Amboli hills that flank the east of the city. With the royalty locating themselves to the lake side, the town grew and is now a commercial city mainly serving as a transport hub serving Malvan city, Tarkarli beach and Vengurla beach. Sawantwadi is also know for its cashew nuts, as that region in Sindhudurg district is conducive for its growth.

Moirang, Manipur

Loktak lake near Moirang

The Loktak lake takes up a huge landmass in the plains of Manipur state. The lake is known for several floating cultivation islands called ‘phumdi’. It is also famous for the sighting of the state animal of Manipur, the Sangai deer. The town of Moirang came up on the south-western bank of the lake. The location was popularised by Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army. You can see the INA museum in the town of Moirang. Moirang is also the road head for a visit to the Keibul Lamjao national park that surrounds the Loktak lake and offers the best chance to spot the dancing Sangai deer.

Bhuj, Gujarat

Harmirsar lake and Bhuj city

Harmirsar lake and Bhuj city

The district of Kutch in Gujarat is famous as the road head to the Great White desert, otherwise known as the Rann of Kutch. Kutch district is an arid area with very little rain throughout the year. The entire region is as good as a desert. But Bhuj city, which is the headquarters of the district today, has been the capital of the Kutch kingdom of the Jadeja dynasty for centuries. The Prag Mahal of jadejas, which was made famous as the palace in the movie Lagaan, was made in Bhuj for a reason. The only reliable fresh water body in Kutch is Harmirsar lake, around which Bhuj is founded. The area around the lake is Bhuj’s most upscale and commercial zone. So refreshing is the Harmirsar lake to the otherwise arid Kutch landscape, that you can spot migratory birds, such as even pelicans, in the area around the lake.

Lake cities we did not cover

In India 360, we chose not to cover the states of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. We did not cover the lake cities of Bhopal, Ajmer or Udaipur. We hope to cover lake cities in MP, Rajasthan and Odisha in future trips.

Conclusion

Water has always been an essential commodity for humans. You will often see the roots of cities around the world tracing back to a water source such as the coast or river sides. Lake cities have been around for centuries in India. Starting as small settlements near water, the cities grew into commercial, religious and administrative importance.

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Listicle: 10 sea-side temples we covered

India is a beautiful country. It is also a religious country. Places of beauty are also Kshetras with major temples. Things look especially beautiful if a major temple is on a beach. The sound of temple bells on one side is matched by the rhythm of waves on another. The smell of camphor mixes well with the fresh salty smell of sea water. Here are some sea-side temples from India. This is not an exhaustive list. It is just some temples we have covered during India 360 or other trips.

1. Mahalaxmi, Mumbai, Maharashtra

Mahalaxmi temple, Mumbai

Mahalaxmi temple, Mumbai

We start from our hometown. Mahalaxmi temple was built in the 18th century and has quite a story behind it. Along with Prabhadevi locality’s Siddhi Vinayak temple, Mahalaxmi is a flagship temple in Mumbai. The sight of the Hindu Mahalaxmi temple with the Haji Ali Dargah a few metres away is a famous landscape of the city. The temple overlooks the sea, with the waves regularly crashing at the rocks at the base of the temple. Diwali is a peak time for this temple since that is when a major Laxmi pooja happens.

It is said the the temple was built as part of the Vellard project, which was a project to connect all seven islands of Mumbai through causeways in the sea. The wall of the causeway connecting Tardeo to Worli kept collapsing. In his sleep, the chief engineer of the project, an Indian, dreamt that there was an idol of Goddess Lakshmi inside the sea. Acting on his dream, he was bold enough to initiate a search operation. To his surprise, the dream was a reality and the statue was recovered. A temple was built with the statue consecrated. After the temple was built, the Worli causeway project or any of it for that matter never faced trouble from the sea!

The easiest way to reach the temple is by travelling by a Mumbai local train to Mahalaxmi railway station and taking a shared taxi to the temple. Buses are also available with excellent frequency. All buses that travel from south Mumbai (i.e. Marine drive, Churchgate) to Mumbai Central / Tardeo or Worli pass through Mahalaxmi.

2. Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri district, Maharashtra

Ganpatipule temple

About 30 km from Ratnagiri city is the Ganesh temple of Ganpatipule. The idol of this temple is said to have sprung up from under the beach sand. This is following a legend that Lord Ganesh shifted his location to here from another beach named Ganeshgule. A full-featured temple with a trust now stands at the beach. Ganpatipule is still not urbanised and surrounded by hills, coconut and mango plantations and rice paddy. The village has several economically priced lodges for the devotees.

Ganpatipule is best reached by taking a Maharashtra State Transport bus from Ratnagiri city. There are also six-seater vehicles serving as shared taxis.

3. Kunkeshwar, Sindhudurg district, Maharashtra

Kunkeshwar temple

In Sindhudurg district, 16 km from the town of Devgad is the beach-side Shiv temple. It is said that the temple was built by a sailor whose ship was caught in a turbulent sea. When the sailor saw a lamp on a beach at a distance, he thought that it was divine intervention. He prayed to the divine to rescue him and promised that he’d build a temple if he were to survive. The ship landed right near a Shiv Ling on the Kunkeshwar beach.

True to his promise, the sailor built the temple, which still stands today. Inside the Kunkeshwar temple is a portrait of Lord Shiva with a rugged beard.

The nearest railway station to Kunkeshwar is in the town of Kankavli, from where state transport buses are available. There are both economical lodges and a three-star resort at Kunkeshwar.

4. Gokarna, Uttara Kannada district, Karnataka

A view of Kudle beach, Gokarna

Gokarna is gaining popularity as the town with beaches not so crowded as Goa. The beaches in Gokarna, Om and Kudle, draw several tourists from abroad. But the town started as a Kshetra and most Indians still visit it as a pilgrimage.

The town is known for its Shiva temple, the chief deity being Mahabaleshwara. It is said that the Shiva Linga present at Gokarna is the Atma Linga. As per ancient legends, anyone worshipping the Atma Linga could attain immortality. Lord Ravana is said to have tried to grab the Atma Linga from Gokarna, but was unsuccessful in doing so. He did get a few pieces of it and scattered it around. One place having the scattered Atma Linga is the town of Murudeshwara, discussed next.

Despite being in Karnataka, Gokarna has special significance to Keralites. This is because Lord Parashurama is said to have thrown his axe into the sea, standing at the shore of Gokarna. The sea God Varuna yielded and made a piece of land appear from inside the sea. This land is said to be present day Kerala and hence that state is called “God’s own country”.

5. Murudeshwara, Uttara Kannada district, Karnataka

The 123 feet (37 metres or 12 storeys) tall Shiva statue at Murudeshwara temple. Compare its height to the tiny looking temple complex at the base of the statue.

Of all the beach temples, Murudeshwara is my favourite. The temple has so many features to see. First, the entrance is marked by a tall 237-feet Raja Gopura (entrance tower). There are two more tower once inside the Gopura. They are plated in gold. There are several statues, one showing the story of Shiv Bhakt Markandeya, another showing Lord Shiva releasing Ganga river from his dread-locks and another large statue showing the Sun God Surya Deva. The main highlight of Murudeshwara is the 123-feet tall statue of sitting Lord Shiva above the main sanctum.

Bhatkal is the town nearest to Murudeshwara, which has its own station named Murudeshwara Road. But if you are catching a superfast train, then you should alight at Karwar. Both towns have Karnataka & North West Karnataka state transport (KSRTC & NWKSRTC) buses to Murudeshwara. Murudeshwara has excellent lodging facilities in the form of the ample R. N. Shetty lodge, made possible by a man of that name. Mr R. N. Shetty is a businessman and regularly donates money for religious causes such as building and renovation of temples.

6. Varkala, Thiruvananthapuram district, Kerala

View of Varkala beach from the hill adjacent to the beach.

View of Varkala beach from the hill adjacent to the beach.

Similar to Gokarna, Varkala is popular among tourists, both foreign and Indian, as a beach resort town, similar to those in Goa. But Varkala is actually a Vishnu Kshetra with its flagship temple being the Janardhana Swamy temple.¬† This temple is more than 2000 years old. The temple is 100 metres away from the sea, but the Bali Mantapa, or the sacrifice altar is on the beach. The beach’s name is Papanasam beach, meaning that it washes away the sins of those who take a dip in the sea.

Varkala has a station named ‘Varkala Shivagiri’. Other important railway stations in the vicinity of Varkala are Kollam Jn, Kochuveli and Thiruvananthapuram Central.

7. Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu

The temple due which gives the town its name. The Kanya Kumari Devi temple worships Bhagavathy Devi or Shakti in the form of an adolescent child, long before her marriage to Lord Shiva.

At the southern tip of India is a temple that overlooks the sea on three sides. The Indian ocean, the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian sea come together. Overlooking the confluence is the temple of Kanya Kumari, a form of Goddess Shakti, worshipped as an adolescent, long before Her marriage to Lord Shiva. Also important in Kanyakumari is a rock memorial paying respects to Swami Vivekananda.

Kanyakumari has a railway station and is connected to all major cities in India.

8. Thiruchendur, Thoothukudi district, Tamil Nadu

Thiruchendur beach temple is one of the 6 major temples worshipping Lord Murugan / Karthikeyan in Tamil Nadu.

In Tamil Nadu, there are six major Lord Murugan (Karthikeya) temples. These are collectively called the ‘Arupadai Veedu’s or the Six Abodes of The Lord. Four of them are at the top of hills. One of them is on the bank of Cauvery river, but still takes a flight of stairs to reach the shrine. The south-most Arupadai Veedu at Thiruchendur is on a beach. The town is between Thoothukudi (Tuticorin) and Kanyakumari. The name roughly translates to “Lord’s place with the red soil”, with the word ‘Thiru’ a way to address deities, the way ‘Shri’ is used in Sanskrit and word ‘Chendur’ being a Tamil form of the word ‘Sindhur’ or vermillion. This is due to the presence of red soil in this region of Tamil Nadu. There is nothing red about the beach though. Despite the influx of pilgrims, the beach is reasonably clean. The beach is also very long. It stretches for 2 km to the south of the temple, where you can find secluded quite places to hang out.

Thiruchendur has a railway station and is the terminus station on the railway route from Tirunelveli. Both Tirunelveli and Thoothukudi cities are about 50 km from Thiruchendur. Tamil Nadu state transport buses run between Thiruchendur and Tirunelveli, Thoothukudi and Madurai. Thiruchendur has plenty of lodges, Yatri Niwases and three-star hotels for a cosy stay.

9. Velankanni Church, Nagapattinam District, Tamil Nadu

Velankanni church, Nagapattinam

Velankanni church, Nagapattinam

If you want to see a shrine which has devotees from two religions alike, then Velankanni is a perfect example. What you see near the beach looks like a church and is definitely structured like a church with an altar and pews. But Christians and Hindus alike call the deity their own. The Christians from all over Tamil Nadu and even rest of India come here to pray to Mother Mary or Mary Amma. The Hindus have a slightly different target, calling¬† the lady deity by the name ‘Mariamma’ or the rain god also known for her anger, similar to Goddess Kali. Candles and incense sticks burn side-by-side. The lady deity wears sashes and flower garlands. Offerings of fruits lie at the alter in front of the statue. People from both religions have made the place their own and co-exist harmoniously, truly believing in the concept of Many Faiths, One God.

Velankanni can reached easily from the railway station at Nagapattinam town, about 6 km away. There are state transport buses from Chennai, Thanjavur, Kumbakkonam and Pondicherry.

10. Ashtalaxmi temple, Chennai, Tamil Nadu

Ashtalaxmi temple and Besant Nagar beach, Chennai

Ashtalaxmi temple and Besant Nagar beach, Chennai

In the posh locality of Besant Nagar, on the Elliot’s beach, is a unique temple dedicated to Goddess Laxmi. According to Hindu mythology, there are eight forms of the Goddess, each one blessing Her devotees with a different form of wealth or abundance, thus leading to the prefix Ashta. The eight forms of Laxmi are: Dhanalaxmi (money), Dhaanyalaxmi (food), Dhairyalaxmi (courage), Santhaanalaxmi (offspring), Vidyalaxmi (knowledge), Vijayalaxmi (success), Gaja Laxmi (prosperity and royalty), Aadi Laxmi (also called Mahalaxmi, the consort of Lord Vishnu).

Like Mumbai’s Mahalaxmi temple, Ashtalaxmi temple is thronged by more devotees than usual during Diwali’s Laxmi Pooja day. Besant Nagar can be reached by taking Chennai’s super-reliable city buses. One can also take a local train on the MRTS route and alight at the Indira Nagar railway station.

Temples we did not cover

Due to time constraints on our trip, we did not cover Odisha. The Jagannath temple in Puri is one of the most important sea temples in the country and is part of the original Char Dham (4 abodes) route, combined with Badridnath (Uttarakhand), Dwarka (Gujarat) and Rameswaram (Tamil Nadu).

Conclusion

If you are a family with a mixture of religious and agnostic people, or a family with devout adults and fun-loving children, then beach temples are a perfect destination for you. Those who are touring with religion in mind can look around the temples and practise faith, while those less enchanted with religion can have fun on the beach. Of course, everyone can do a bit of both.

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8 unique museums in India

India is a country steeped in culture and heritage. It is no wonder that you find museums of all sizes strewn around the country. Some museums come in modest sizes, like Dr Abdul Kalam’s house at Rameshwaram and Lokmanya Tilak’s birth place at Ratnagiri. But some others are humungous, with multiple buildings and wings. Examples are Salarjung museum in Hyderabad, National Museum in New Delhi, Indian Museum in Kolkata, Chhatrapati Shivaji Vastu Sangrahalaya in Mumbai, Baroda Museum at Vadodara, St Andrew’s Archaeological Site Museum in Old Goa and the biggest of them all, the Government Museum in Chennai.

Regardless of the size, one thing about them doesn’t change. All of them are based on a single activity. Things of value are collected from around India and showcased in glass cases or pedestals. These valuable articles are collected either from archaeological sites or from affluent donors who themselves are avid collectors. Our day is spent walking between aisles, studying the exhibits and reading the caption or the story attached to the exhibits. These museums are wonderful and each represents a slice of culture in India. And yet…. !

There are some museums that are an exception. Something about them is extra special. They differentiate themselves from the hundreds of regular museums in some way. In this post, we see 8 such museums around India. So, kicking of our first listicle or list-based article, here is the list of the 8 most unique museums around India. Continue reading