Posts Tagged With: monastery

2 capitals, a museum and an inn

After 3 wonderful days in Tbilisi and one around the Kakheti region, we decided to spend a couple of nights amidst the mountains of Gergeti. After a lot of thought, we hired a car (ditching the cheaper but slower marshrutka) so that we could stop en route and check out a couple of local sights.Mtskheta Georgia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The day turned out to be wet & rainy but, coming from the desert, didn’t cause us any grief!

jvariStop 1 was Jvari Monastery atop a rocky mountain. This world heritage site has a lot of historical significance but what makes the visit even better is the beautiful view of the town below that goes by the name of Mtskheta.

Which then brought us down to Stop 2, Mtskheta, the erstwhile capital of Georgia. A pretty town completely deserted by the rains which (in my opinion) only accentuated its beauty. With nothing else open, said hello to yet another church, the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral and wore a skirt to enter (the demands of religions!), listened to a mellifluous chorus of nuns in soprano (me thinks) and rushed back to the car before getting drenched in a downpour.

Stop 3 was another historical ruin, the name of which I have no memory of. However, this was a Bollywoodish-movie setting where I posed and took ample photos before another shower sent us scurrying into the car.

Stop 4 was Gori, the city best (and only) known for being the birthplace of Stalin. We spent a princely sum to enter the Joseph Stalin museum and a stocky long-faced lady showed us around with a wooden cane and gave us a 40 minute lesson on the life history of the communist leader before showing us his fancy little travel tram after which she signed off with a once-in-a-lifetime-smile.

Stalin Gori GeorgiaStop 5 was mandatory. The stomach was growling and though our driver friend recommended a restaurant another hour away, we decided to stop at the next available place. Which turned out to be a small non-descript inn in the middle of nowhere. A group of drunken elderly men were busy with their cha cha and on our arrival, turned their attention to the 2 very distinct looking indians and started singing Raj Kapoor songs (you may recall that he was popular among some of the locals of the erstwhile soviet era). While the food was something I’d avoid mentioning, the company was nothing short of boring. The men not only gave us some country eggs to eat (a post-Easter tradition) but raised a toast to the dead-souls (another tradition) and yet another toast for our well-being!

The last part of our drive was spectacular with the changing scenery and we cha cha-ed our way through to our final destination, Gergeti. More on that soon…

Categories: Georgia, Travelogue | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

One morning, two countries.

Because we visited the David Gareja Monastery.

David Gareja

Little did we realize that the monastery complex, located in the Kakheti region of Eastern Georgia also shares border with Azerbaijan and has been subject to political and religious dispute (Yeah, tell me something new). Situated on a mountainous slope in Georgia, we could see one of the border cities in the distant horizon with a no-man’s land in between and security bunkers on either side. The drive to David Gareja was long and rickety but totally worth it. The monastery is a structure carved entirely from a rock and set amidst acres and acres of a landscape that is eerily gorgeous. Eerie because, but for the 5 of us, there was not a single person in sight over the 4 hours that we were there and inside the monastery, we just came across just one monk. Who promptly told me that ladies weren’t allowed inside a particular area (which as you guessed, was precisely where we were).

Which then brings me to the 5 of us. While we were at our Tbilisian base, we got talking to an American-Mexican couple and the four of us decided to hire a cab for a day to Kakheti and back. Our driver-cum-guide Giorgio (who spoke nothing but Georgian) was a handsome middle-aged fella who walked all over with us, dined with us, drove us around and didn’t speak a word. In the last leg of the tour, he went to answer nature’s call and came back with a bunch of beautiful wild flowers – just for me – attempting to explain that they were rarely found. It was my turn to be speechless.

Kakheti Sighnaghi

The region of Kakheti is best known for its wines. They even claim that Georgia is now the birthplace for wines (uh oh, I can sense les francaises shaking their heads in dismay). Qveri, or a huge clay jar is where grapes are originally stored underground and aged before they produce delicious organic wine.

That said, we spent a day in Kakheti without a drop of wine.

Kakheti wine

After our morning at David Gareja, we moved into the interior of Kakheti on our way to Signaghi.  We pit-stopped at Bodbe Monastery (Georgians are a religious lot, I tell ya). This is a 4th century monastery and apart from a serene setting is the burial place of the famed St. Nino, revered by most Georgians, who brought Christianity to the region.

Bodbe Monastery Kakheti If there was one regret, it would be to not have spent a night at Sighnaghi. A picture postcard medieval-looking town with cobblestone streets, Italian-styled architecture and huge walls surrounding it that creates an absolutely charming, ‘dont-want-to-leave’ atmosphere. We had a long-winding lunch post which we walked through the town. I had almost narrowed down a nice little shelter to stay for the night but the overpowering love for Tbilisi sent us back.

Sighnaghi

Sighnaghi. They call it love-city for a reason.

Categories: Georgia, Travelogue | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Dharamsala Diary

Two sisters set out on a ‘spiritual’ holiday albeit without a plan.

DharamsalaFlight in to Delhi. Rendezvous with a friend who took us around a wonderful tour of the Delhi University followed by a delicious Roti-shoti, paneer & Dal Makhni lunch. All 3 of us, newbies to the capital, clearly underestimated its traffic and what followed was driving around the city, jumping in and out of the metro and eventually missing the ‘luxury’ air-conditioned bus to Dharamsala. At the end, after further haggling and ‘jugaad’, we got onto a sub-standard ‘deluxe’ bus filled in abundance with smiling Buddhist monks in their maroon robes  – and post a tense last couple of hours, we couldn’t have asked for a more spiritual start!

After 12 hours of a bumpy sleepless night, we finally reached the pleasantly cold hill-station. Unable to reach our home-stay owner and with little clue as to its address, the trudge uphill began and after yet another Dalai Lama residencehour, moving away from the increasingly commercialised town-centre, we spotted our yellow-red bungalow perched atop a hill.

Flourishing Flora‘ is run by the Sarin’s – a Punjabi/Maharashtrian couple – and their sons. We got a room facing a lovely view of the hills and surrounded by trees (along with a whole lot of insects for company) and more importantly, devoured delicious food cooked by Aunt Sarin. Who’d think an otherwise boring ‘Upma‘ could be so ‘out-of-the-world’? But then, I digress yet again.

MonksAnd so, here we were – at the adopted land of His Holiness The Dalai lama. A little town crowded and unkempt, yet vibrant with people across nationalities roaming around the streets. Visited the Namgyal Monastery and tried to take a sneak-peak inside the huge gates of bungalow where ‘he’ resides, but was promptly shooed away by the guards. Came out dejected with the weather also looking downcast. And then 2 extraordinary events followed: we devoured the most amazing banofee-pie and happening in parallel, were sudden hailstorms. Yes, hailstorms galore that lasted a whole ten minutes!

Hill-goatie!

Our Dharamsala stay included a couple of other monasteries – The Karmapa monastery, away from the city – peaceful and soothing with cute li’l monks in their prayer robes. And the Norbuling Monastery – much bigger, beautiful with a seemingly Zen-inspired architecture & calm all around.

Not to forget the 18 kms-long trek to and from Triund Hill. Definitely not for the faint-hearted, but more than worth the effort.  So we huffed and puffed and forced ourselves to walk that extra mile, but that moment when we got the first glimpse of white mountains amidst the greens and browns – all exhaustion was momentarily forgotten! Until we had to return downhill, which was by no means easier.

Lastly, there was Dalhousie.

Lesson learnt: Sometimes, travel NEEDS planning beforehand. What to visit and what NOT to visit. With little Peaceresearch plus trying to avoid another night in the bus, we decided to spend the last couple of days in Dalhousie. A town where nothing seems to have changed since India got its independence. A place where everything seemed to be ‘under-repair’. Including Khajjiar, oh-so-badly maintained despite a large pole with a flag claiming it to be the “Switzerland” of India. Shameful because there was no need for comparison in the first place, and deeply disappointing because the difference couldn’t have been more stark.

All said, there is a so much more to Himachal than Dharamsala & Dalhousie. And one day, we shall be back.

Om mani padme hum. May more people travel, understand one another and may peace prevail on earth!

Categories: India, Travelogue | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

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