Chitrakoot and around is steeped in religious and mythological anecdotes. This is the place where Lord Rama spent eleven out of his fourteen years of exile. Amidst old, new, big, small temples and other places of religious importance, about eleven kilometers from Karwi, a bit away from the main road,on Allahabad Chitrakoot road lies Ganesh Bagh, a page from history, a witness to Peshwas ties with Bundelkhand region. It is said to be built in 1880s.
Ganesh Bagh was perhaps created as a recreation retreat. The premises  has an ornately carved Shiva temple with various unique features , a seven storeyed step well, a big pond with steps and cenotaphs around it, few more smaller enclosures, a palace, remains of few other buildings and wide open space which is now being converted into lawns and gardens.
when Peshwa king Vinayak Rao chose this secluded place to built his resting retreat it’s location was perhaps the deciding factor. Even today the quiet serenity of the place has a balmy impact on the tired mind and nerves. Mighty Vindhya range stands  as a backdrop and all around Ganesh Bagh are fields, trees and far flung villages with few mud houses. The pastoral beauty is soothing.
The seven storey step well or Baoli is the first structure after entering the gate. We wandered around  in the colonnaded arcades and passages of it’s top most story only though we could see two more stories below that . These were out of water level. One more story ,submerged in water too was visible. However the stories below that could not be seen. There was a narrow  canal like opening through which deep down  water could be seen in a long stretch. From the front end steps ran down and on both the sides of gap ran covered colonnaded verandah. In between at regular distances horizontal platforms connected verandahs of both the sides. On the farthest end was a huge circular well like structure. This too had water in it. The well had circular covered verandah around it . Remnants of water drainage system could be seen in this verandah. Perhaps the area was used  by royal women for bathing etc. On one side a small door opened to the open space on other side of wall of step well. A loan huge mango tree stood in the open space. May be a garden or full fledged mango groove was there in the bygone days. The step well, it’s structure, design and continuous presence of water altogether form an amazing cooling system to bear the scorching heat of Bundelkhand. The step well is an amazing feet of engineering with perfect synchronisation with nature. At that time also they catered to all the comforts, luxuries and needs of people but always maintained an ecological balance. Nature was given an important place in the scheme of things. And here are we, creating havoc in the name of development.

 

 

Arcades m corridors of step well. Picture @Sunder Iyer.

Huge, magnificent well at the end of corridors. Picture@Sunder Iyer.

 

The circular verandah around the well. Picture @sunder Iyer

Shiva temple stands on a raised platform. At one end of this covered colonnaded verandah are three chambers with stone door frames  which had beautifully carved images of various Gods and Goddesses. On some of these images sea blue, pink, maroon colours still can be seen. none of these three chamber has any deity in the sanctum. No worship or daily rituals are performed here but local people throng the temple during Shravan month and on the occasion of Shivratri. Floor of the verandah running in front of these chambers is very interesting. Two games chaupar and ludo were engraved on the floor. verandahs I have seen in front of temples. Devotees sit there chanting, singing bhajans, offering prayers but indoor games!Well that was something unique. On the other end of verandah staircases from both the sides lead to the roof top. few feets ahead the verandah culminates into an oval small pond shaped structure. Not exactly of size to be called as pond, rather a stone tub would be more appropriate. This too was covered. For what purpose this could have been used. During those times this definitely must have been filled with water. Were there lotuses blooming or women used to sit their dainty feet dipped in water! Well , I was earlier talking about those staircases leading to rooftop. Reaching the rooftop one can even touch the ornately carved Shikharas of temples.Nowhere else have I ever been in such close proximity with Shikharas of temples. The richly carved shikharas display images of various gods , goddesses, mythological creatures,animals and some erotic figures too. This open rooftop was connected to palace through passages. In front of Shikhara on a small covered platform sat Ganesha. That may be one reason that the temple is popular as Ganesha temple among locals even though the main deity was Shiva. View from rooftop is beautiful. If it is the time of year when rains paint countryside in all shades of green and far away hills appear to be enveloped in misty blue, I am sure sitting there on rooftop listening to the sounds of silence can turn out be an unforgettable experience.

 

Over all view of Ganesha temple. Picture@Sunder Iyer

 

 

 

 

Carvings on the wall of temple. Picture @Sunder Iyer.

indoor games carved on the floor of temple verandah. Picture@ Sunder Iyer.

 

The Shikhara trio. The first floor view. Picture @ Sunder Iyer.

 

Another beauty of Ganesh bagh is the big pond near the temple. steps from all the four sides lead to water . The pond is square in shape. Few cenotaphs around the pond were still intact though indications were apparent that there were more such structures around the pond.

 

The pond with steps and cenotaphs. Picture@ Sunder Iyer.

Ganesh Bagh is ASI protected monument. Premises are neat, clean . Whatever structures have survived the vagaries of times and humans , those are maintained.
If you love soluted, history, architecture and nature, you should not miss out on Ganesh Bagh , more so if you happen to be in the vicinity.

September, October  or January, February is the best time as the natural, pastoral beauty is at it’s best during those months.
Ganesh Bagh should be visited during day time only. It is more convient to have one’s own vehicle. However from Chitrakoot or Karvi you can hire full auto etc. Public transport is not available on the route.

All pictures by Sunder Iyer.

 

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Badavilinga is the largest monolithic Shivalinga in Hampi. The name and the story behind it makes an interesting read. Badavilinga is said to be combination of two words — Badava and Linga. Badava in the local language means poor and we were told that this temple was commissioned by a poor peasant woman, hence the name. All other temples, sculptures dotting Hampi are said to have royal patrons, either kings or their chieftains.

The huge Shivalinga stands inside a small stone chamber occupying almost entire chamber. The Shivalinga is placed on a large circular pedestal which in turn stands submerged in water. The chamber is always filled with water as a water channel flows through it. This is a kind of symbolic representation of the holy river Ganges coming down on earth and it’s flow being controlled by  Lord Shiva.

The mythological story related to River Ganges coming down to earth

Raja Bhagirath did great penance for years and years to bring the Ganges down to earth from heaven. It is said that the holy river Ganges was born in the Kamandal of Brahma. Raja Bhagirath was doing this penance to provide moksha/liberation to his sixty thousand ancestor who died due to curse of………… Ultimately when Goddess Ganges was convinced to come down to earth, it was feared that the entire creation would be washed away due to her tremendous power and force. Hence Lord Shiva was requested to  control her flow by making her descend on earth via His long, matted tangled hair.

Another attractive feature of this Shivalinga is the three eyes etched on it, representing three eyes of Lord Shiva.

The stone chamber around Shivalinga has no ceiling and sun rays enter through open space to bathe the Linga in golden light. The entire concept of it is beautiful. The huge black stone Shivalinga bathed in golden sunlight and swaying water ripples at the bottom. All the Panch Tatva as if congregate at one place — the sky, air, water, the warmth of sunlight and earth.  Besides that to be on the spot while sun rays enter the enclosure is kind of living a divine moment. Occasionally the sun light  reaches water below and the flickering light on water surface looks like lighted lamp. The almost inaudible murmuring of ripples sounds like mantras.

 

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Badavilinga bathed in celestial light

 

Laxmi Narasimha or Ugra Narsimha is located near  Badavilinga. This is said to be the biggest statue/ idol of any deity in Hampi. Both these temples are located on the road that connects royal area to the sacred area.

As per Hindu mythology Narsimha is another form of Lord Vishnu. Lord Narsimha is depicted having human body with a face of lion. He is considered to be a great protector of his devotees. Story of Prahlad in Hindu mythology is associated with this avatara of Lord Vishnu.

In this temple Lord Narsimha sits  cross legged in yogic  mudra  with a serpentine hood over his head. He is shown seated over coils of snake, the Sheshnaga, whose seven heads are clearly visible in the hood above deity’s head. It is said that originally Goddess Laxmi was depicted sitting on His lap. The temple was severely damaged during attacks by invaders. Now only a hand of Goddess can be seen. In Hindu mythological images Vishnu is seen lying on Sheshnaga, floating in the ocean and Goddess Laxmi is invariably with him. Though in those images Lord Vishnu is not shown in His Narsimha form.

Standing before the giant, magnificently chiselled statue I felt humbled not just by the divine aura but also by the stupendous creativity and unfathomable imagination of those artist of the times bygone. I tried to imagine Goddess Laxmi sitting there beautiful, delicate, decked in/ with all finery and ornaments  and the irreparable loss saddened me. At the same spot, at the same moment the realization hit me forcefully how creative and how destructive humane mind can be. It all depends  on what we believe in and what we want to leave for posterity.

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Laxmi Narsimha and Badavilnga, both the temples in one frame

All the pictures by Sunder Iyer.

.25.10.2017

The Sunrise

We decided to have a date with rising sun on Matanga hill. Started climbing the steps to top at about 5 A.M. It was quite dark. Though steps are there but not well laid down. Diversions too are there in between hence it is advisable to be accompanied by some local person while venturing on hills in dark. If possible take a torch with you. We had our auto wallah with us. The climb is not too high. We reached the top in about twenty five to thirty minutes time. Four persons — two girls and a young couple were already there with their cameras all set and ready to capture the majestic entrance of sun. We too settled down on the side facing valley and hills beyond.

I feel we can never appreciate the charisma of sunrise to it’s full extent if we have not waited for it in the darkness. The tranquility all around, the soft silky wisps of air, the mystique translucency of darkness and that expectant gaze fixed on horizon for the glimpse of the first hint of emergence of sun….every thing for the time being as if stood still. Slowly the sky behind the hills started changing colours. Just a hint, little bit of diffused light. Chains of hills, the boulders in the valley stirred slowly into existence.  The illuminated clouds were suffused with ethereal glow.Hearts set on prayer tune with batted breath we waited and then we felt it…. the red orb behind the clouds. Slowly the curtain parted and there was the smiling , big red sun on grayish blue sky. To hold an eye to eye communication with the celestial being was a divine experience. Slowly I let go my breath. The realization dawned upon me then only that I was holding it . With this descended a feeling of being burden free, a quiet strength to face to face what lies ahead.

 

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I stood up to look around. Down there in the valley the entire  Achyut Rai temple complex lay spread. We have been to this temple day before but this aerial view presented entirely different perspective. The gopuram stood high. The temple enclosures spread wide but the entire complex mingled homogeneously with the surrounding rocky terrain. Not only this temple complex, ribbon like serpentine Tungbhadra, the roads meandering through the green trees, big rocks jutting out into the valley,each and every boulder scattered all around, the big tall trees, the tiny blades of grass… all looked like an essential part of a bigger scheme of thing. The scene before eyes filled the heart with all embracing emotions. The elevated perspectives do widen and deepen our thoughts.

 

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View of Achyutrai temple from Matanga hill …. If one wants one can come down from hill and directly go to visit this temple.

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Every boulder there has a story etched in it’s heart.

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The Tungabhadra….

By this time the silky golden sun rays had descended on the earth. The delicate tufts of slender grass blades on hill top glistened with fresh beauty. Gentle morning zypher tickled the grass blades and they danced with mirth. I turned around and for the first time noticed a modest white colored top of temple on the rock.

 

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Veerbhadra temple

This is Veerbhadra temple. In fact while coming up we passed through the courtyard of this temple and then ascended steps to reach the hill top. But due to darkness we couldn’t notice the arch of entrance, the courtyard .Most of the part of the temple is in ruined condition yet a long covered varandah with view to valley was kept clean by the Sadhu, who frequents this temple. In the niche of the verandah in a dark corner we found two idols too . The main shrine is of Veerbhadra. It is a cult of Shiva followers and it appears that during it’s prime time significant number of Humpi population followed this cult. Veerbhadra is one of the raudra form Shiva.

 

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Gopuram of Veerbhadra temple.

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

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A view from covered verandah of Veerbhadra temple. Many such mandpam are found on hills ,on way to temple.

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veerbhadra Swami…. The main deity of temple.

The sadhu in the temple informed us that still an annual fair takes place there and many pilgrims belonging to a particular community and cult gather here in large number.

 

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The Sadhu we met in the temple. He was making these trinkets with thread tatting and displayed them for sale.

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view of Virupaksha temple from Matanga Hills.

Mythological references

As per our mythological stories Matanga Rishi is one of the very first crusader against untouchability. By birth he belonged to  lower caste. Caste system at that time used to be very rigid. Once unknowingly he crossed the path of princess of the kingdom and was beaten for this so called offense. He protested against this injustice outside king’s palace and  later on attained a place and respect of a Rishi by his severe penance, knowledge and divine powers.

We find another reference of Matanga Rishi  in Aranyakand of Ramayana. Near Hampi on another side of Tungabhadra it’s Kishkindha Kshetra. The kingdom of strong,powerful monkey king Bali. The story goes like this.

Once a mighty bull named DunDubhi arrived at Bali’s kingdom and challenged him to fight. Bali could never ignore a challenge hence he fought with him. After a long and ferocious fight Bali killed Dundubhi. He caught the corpse of mighty bull with two horns, raised it high in air and threw it far. The corpse landed on Yagnavedi of Matanga Rishi at Rishyamuk parvat. Matanga Rishi cursed that who so ever has polluted his Yagna would be blown into pieces if he ever stepped on this hill. Indra informed Bali about this curse in presence of Sugreev and Hanuman and this curse of Matanga Rishi proved to be a boon to Sugreev.  When due to certain misunderstanding Bali was after Sugreev’s life, Sugreev along with Hanuman ran to this hill only as Bali could not dare to step on this due to Matanga Rishi’s curse.

I feel most of us know about Shabri. The lady who tasted every Jujuberry fruit in her basket before offering it to Rama, when during his fourteen year exile period he once happened to meet her. Shabri was disciple of Matanga Rishi.

And that was glorious start of the day for us…..divine sunrise, enriching emotions, panoramic nature specters, people we met, faith and belief. Matnga hills. I wrote this morning with sunrise colours, dipped in early morning scent and kept it deep in my heart.

 

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“The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.”

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All pictures by Sunder Iyer

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24.10.2017

We started our three day Hampi monuments tour from Kadalekalu Ganesha. A very apt start. After all we start every auspicious work by worshiping Ganesha first. Kadalekalu Ganesha is located on the eastern slopes of Hemakuta hills

Dated to fifteenth century Kadalekalu Ganesha is a giant statue of Ganesha carved out of a single rock. The statue is about 4.5 meters high and really magnificent. Bengal gram is called Kadalekalu in local language and the idol got it’s name due to the shape of it’s belly resembling it. His favourite modak in one hand and another in var[blessing] mudra posture Ganesha sat there peacefully in his signature style almost filling the entire sanctum.I was specially fascinated by the var mudra palm. With the lines in palm etched clearly it almost looked live .

The pillared mandpam in front of sanctum is aesthetically very beautiful. The exceptionally slender pillars with carving of mythical figures provide a kind of delicacy to this stone structure. Standing on a raised platform this  mandpam is an ideal place to enjoy a distant view of Hampi Bazar, Matanga hills and other monuments dotting the nearby area.

Behind Kadalekalu Ganesha on a slightly higher rock stands a Shiva temple. May be at certain period the temple was  surrounded by boundary wall but now only a gate stands there. The gate leads to a simple verandah in which a small Nandi sits facing Shivlinga. Shivlinga is there but no pooja Archna is being conducted in the temple. The feature which make this otherwise simple temple unique are two big rectangular inscribed slabs on the side walls of the verandah. If interpreted these inscriptions might tell us some historical facts. May be something about this temple. One of the slab is clearly in Devnagri lipi. The language might be Sanskrit perhaps.

Outside the sun was bright and hot but the quiet verandah of the temple was cool. The silk like tender green, white blades of grass standing on the broken top of the gate simmered and vibrated in the golden day light…perhaps the only form of life which never abandoned the glorious stones of Vijayanagar empire, however dark the times would have been.

 

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All pics by Sunder Iyer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sitting on the edge of that rock which plunged miles below in the vast valley strewn with boulders, dotted with greens of bushes and trees I was all set and ready to merge myself with the sunset sky. My gaze fixed on the stretch of the sky above the layers of hill range at the other end of valley, I absorbed the stillness of the moment. There were other groups of tourists scattered over the rocky terrain and murmur of voices could be felt but a kind of hushed expectant silence spread over the area. Every heart there was as if filled with deep reverence towards the most majestic, grand show of the day end. Sunset is there since humans are there on earth. So much has been said, written about it. We all must have witnessed more sunsets than we could count yet it’s charisma never fades. Every time we see the twilight slowly descending on earth, the lights gradually fading in oblivion, the majestic sun gliding on the sky, in and out of clouds and the blaze of colours…the golden yellows, the vibrant oranges, the silky blue turning into deep purple, the dashes of pink, our heart is filled with awe.
This sun there, must have seen the rise and fall of India’s one of the most prosperous empire. The setting sun must have kissed the Gopurams of the temples scattered all over Hampi with same equanimity whether they dazzled in their glory or lay buried in dust and mud. The thought gave me a feeling of timelessness. The whispering leaves of the lone tree near the small shrine on rocks fell into a silence. Wind too sang in hushed notes. All around us a sweet tranquility prevailed. Occasionally the sound of bells from Virupaksha temple groups reached us. It was a wonderful moment. A reassuring one when, suddenly that trust, that belief takes deep root within you that….everything is alright, everything happens for good.
After the curtain fell over the majestic show of the sunset, I lay there on the rock watching the tiny pale stars slowly walking in….life felt just so perfect.

 

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sipping the light….drop by drop I inhale and glow…..Hanuman temple

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Slowly Sun wraps up it’s golden orange extravaganza and starts fading into oblivion leaving stage to softer, subtler colours….. yes, the stage has to be shared to make the display more beautiful deep and complete.. Every one deserves a chance and each has it’s special attributes.

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The distant echoes of sunset sky are silently absorbed by the puddle . During the long, dark night every colour comes alive to whisper soothing lullabies to still waters.

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Reaching out to departing sun…. May all your yearnings be satisfied.

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Before the curtain is finally pulled…. tender caresses of wind makes me feel light and feathery, the silky blue spreads in eyes and pearly pink nestles inside….. I am ready to surrender.

 

All the pictures by Sunder Iyer.

We were  nearing Abhaneri to visit the famous step well Chand Bowari, when midst wide spread green fields this brownish ancient structure looking striking against the sparkling blue sky caught our attention. In fact before stepping in to the premises we were totally unaware of the existence of Harshat Mata temple. Yes, very poor research work before setting off for an excursion but this lack on our part increased our joy of encounter with this temple manifold. It was like stumbling upon a treasure trove and a treasure trove of the finest quality of sculpture and carving it is.
If we take into account the broken panels kept in the temple premises, the idols kept in the verandah encircling Chand Bowri and innumerable sculptures from this temple donated to various museums in our country, we could imagine what a grand, magnificent and huge temple complex it would have been in it’s days of glory.
Harshat Mata temple has faced massive destructive and damaging attacks yet faith survived. The sanctum is there, deity is there. Pooja archna is done on daily basis what suffered is  a jewel of architecture marvel par excellence.Still on pillars, the panels, the ceiling of domes can one find many mythological themes, Gods, Goddesses and scenes from royal life carved intricately. Each image, each panel deserves a detailed description. One needs time to appreciate each piece.
There is Shiva in His various forms– Ardhnarishwara, Natraja or dancing Shiva etc. Goddess, Shakti in the forms of  Mahishasurmardini, Gajalaxmi, Parvati, chamundi, Saptmatrika etc, Laxminarayana, Vishnu. Ganapati. Kartikeya, Sun God and many other deities with mixed features of different Gods and then are dancers, ballerinas, garden scenes, court scenes. various kinds of ornaments with minute details in vogue that period, dresses. weapons…myriad glimpses of social fabric. Harshat mata temple literally is a kind of  an open mythological and cultural encyclopedia in stone, if you know how to fathom the depths.

 

 

 

 

 

All Pics by Sunder Iyer

Stepwells in India came into existence long long back. They were born out of necessity, simple water reservoir kind of structure. They were dug deep into earth and steps were created so that villagers could reach the lowest level during dry hot months when water level recedes considerably…
during monsoon torrential rains filled these wells and that guaranteed the year long uninterrupted supply of water.
These stone cistern looking down deep into heart of earth were marvels of architecture even in their most simplest forms and some of those which evolved in their structures are astounding to look at.
One such step well is Chand Baoli in Abhaneri in Rajasthan.
We started from jaipur very early in the morning and after spending few hours at Bhangarh we covered Abhaneri too the same day. Though before visiting Chand baori I had read about it and seen pictures too but nothing prepared me for the astounding magnificence of the structure. Symmetrical steps running down in an identical pattern on the three side walls of massive reservoir created an impact of rhythmical, harmonious ode… an ode it is..ode to the skill, craftsmanship and imagination of those artist/ sculptors of bygone era.
The terraced steps walk down to almost thirteen levels and each level is said to be of about five feet. The number of steps carved is said to be approximately 3500. At the end water lay studded like a precious stone in the frame of the ring. On the fourth side are built three pillared enclosures, on the pillars facing water are sacred images of Goddess Durga and Lord Ganesha.

It is said that the place was earlier known as Abhanagari which later on was distorted into Abhaneri. Chand Bawari was built in 8th to 9th century by Chand Raja, the then ruler of the area. The Bawari is named after him only. It is said that long back there were two rivers in the area Bana river and Sang river. This bawari was built between these two rivers in such a way that during rainy season when the level of water in the rivers used to rise, the water flowed into the Bawari. I think that served two purposes … if at all the torrential rains threatened to submerge the area in floods, that danger was completely obliterated and second one of course the obvious one, the water was stored in the well to be used during summers when there was scarcity of water. Today also it is said that level of water during monsoon rises about three levels from below.
We were also told that originally on the fourth side was a ramp going down. This was built for taking down the animals to drink water. Later on that small summer palace was built by Raja Man Singh first. There are rooms in which royal family used to rest seeking refuge from the scorching heat of summers. Not only for royal family the steps of the well also served as sanctuary for travellers and common public providing them cool respite from hot sun above. This place also served as an arena for public meetings conducted by royal family. villagers used to sit on the steps on three sides while king, queen and other dignitaries of importance sat on the chhataris built on fourth side. What a multi utilitarian structure ! and to this day the astounding master piece stand there quenching our thirst for aesthetic and beauty.
Chand Baori, it’s premises, the lawns surrounding it – all are very well maintained, neat, clean, sparkling.
In the premises around the bawari runs covered verandahs on three sides. These verandahs serve as a kind of open museum of a number of finest sculpted, carved idols. It is said that these sculptures were part of the adjacent Harshat mata temple. The temple was plundered and destroyed/damaged by Mahmud Gazhani . Later on these sculptures scattered all over the area were collected and kept here. The temple still is there. But I shall talk about the temple and beautiful sculptures in my another post.
outside Chand bowri there is a small market where besides few eateries one can also find few shops of local handicrafts.

 

Locals there told us that on way back to Jaipur from Abhaneri if we have time we can also visit Bhandarej ki Bawari. From Dausa this bawari is about three km. away. We didn’t go there due to paucity of time in hand but thought of mentioning it, if some other enthusiast is interested in exploring.bundi_23nw

closer to the heart of earth runs the nectar of life

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Asymmetry might be compelling but then symmetry is so comforting.

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All Pictures by Sunder Iyer