While we were in Mysore, I got a chance to visit a very unique place called “Shuka Van” (Parrot is called a Shuka in Sanskrit), a rehabilitation centre for birds in the beautiful Chamundi Hills area of the city. .
This centre was set up Dr Sri Ganapathy Sachidananda, the founder of Avadotta Datta Peetham and has a number of colourful birds, mainly Parrots from all over the world.
It provides shelter to injured and abandoned birds. Dr Ganapathy believes that the birds are vital for existence of humans and their alarmingly diminishing numbers can have serious trouble for mankind. His message is to save them and the depleting forest cover to save humanity.
There is small entrance fee to the aviary, which in my view is very necessary for its upkeep. Inside after paying a small fee you can feed the birds in their enclosure and get yourself photographed. The hard copy of the photograph can be yours upon payment of a small fee.
The aviary, established in 2012, is covered by 50 m high free flight mesh and has about 2100 colourful birds made up of 468 different species. It recently set a Guinness World record for “most bird species in an aviary” (see the Youtube video below).
While going to Mysore from Bangalore, we briefly stopped at Tipu Sultan’s tomb in Srirangapatnam, which is 15 kms short of Mysore. This majestic structure was built by Tipu Sultan in 1784 and it looks quite similar to Golconda tombs. The Gumbaz has been built in Persian style and around it is the Lalbagh gardens.
The day we visited the monument happened to be Friday so the garden were full of families who had come to pray. The whole place looked so happy and thriving.
Originally the entrance door was made in gold and silver but it was looted during the British rule and it is now housed in Albert Museum in London.
The Gumbaz is actually the tomb of Tipu Sultan’s father, Hyder Ali. On either side are the tomb are the tombs of Tipu himself and his mother, Fatima Begum. There is also a mosque inside the complex called Masjid-e-Aksa.
It is quite a beautiful structure and if you are travelling between Mysore and Bangalore you must stop here and enjoy the beauty of India’s heritage.
In 1960, the Government of Mysore, as it was called in those days, gave 3000 acres of land to Tibetan Refugees to set up a camp in Bylakuppe, 6 kms from Khushal Nagar on Mysore-Coorg highway. Later with some more land grants this became the largest Tibetan settlement in Karnataka and second biggest in India after Dharamshala.
Lugsum Samdupling established Namdroling Monastery, also known as the Golden Temple, here in 1963. Till I visited this place, I knew of only one Golden Temple in Amritsar. Clearly it was lack of knowledge on my part regarding south of India.
The Monastery is huge and houses a 40 feet high statue of Guru Padmasambhava also known as Guru Rinpoche. It is the largest teaching center of Nyingmapa, a lineage of Tibetan Buddhism and has over 500 monks and nuns.
The Monastery is quite beautiful with ornate walls and colourful paintings depicting Gods and Demons from Tibetan Buddhism. Not only it attracts tourists from across the world but also young Tibetans who come to study here.
There are well landscaped gardens and during the Tibetan New Year the whole town is decked up and many celebrations including traditional dances are performed here.
On way to Coorg, we stopped over for the night in Mysore and stayed in The Lalitha Mahal Palace Hotel. I am glad we choose to stay in that heritage property, located near the Chamundi Hills. It is the second largest palace in Mysore and is really beautiful.
We reached there in the afternoon and the moment our cab turned in to its driveway, we were bowled over by the beauty of this 100 years old property. Our modern-day state of art buildings are definitely no match for the grandeur of our heritage buildings.
On 18 November 1921, Sri Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV, the Maharaja of Mysore laid the foundation stone of this majestic palace for the exclusive stay of the then Viceroy of India.
Mr. E W Fritchley was appointed as the Chief Architect of the project. He modeled it on the lines of St Paul’s Cathedral in London. He built it on a raised platform giving us a beautiful view of Mysore from its front porch.
In 1974, it was converted into a Heritage Hotel and since then it is being managed by The India Tourism Development Corporation. The banquet hall is huge & elegant and has cut glass windows. A lot of furniture of that times tells us the story of how magnificent it would have been in those days. I was not too happy with the maintenance of the property and show it is being sold to its guests. Definitely more efforts are required on both the fronts if we are to maintain this heritage.
We stayed in a suite in the front and slept on the huge heritage bed under a high ceiling giving us a really royal feeling. Although there are a few modern-day facilities in the bathroom and dressing room, they still retain their old world charm.
The garden around the swimming pool has definitely seen better days but an early morning walk there really made my day. The breakfast later was super and left me wondering why more tourists do not check in the property.
It should definitely be sold to the foreign tourists looking for a taste of the erstwhile Raj.
While walking from our hotel, Ramada in Amritsar to the Golden temple we came across the World’s first Partition Museum, right next to the Town Hall. Sadly we were not allowed to go in on that day, as it was 6.05 pm and the Museum shuts down at 6 pm. So we visited it the first thing next morning.
It is simply a must visit place both for Indians and non Indians, to understand the greatest tragedy that shook the Indian sub continent and redefined the history of two nations forever.
An estimated 18 million people lost everything they had and about 2 million people lost their lives. For the rest, in both nations, life has never been the same.
As India gained independence from the British, in August 1947, they hurriedly divided India into two countries on religious lines and lives across the border were effected forever.
The Museum was set up in October 2016 in Amritsar, a city that witnessed the maximum damage both to lives and property.
Since the museum is about people and their lives, it stores their oral history, their personal artifacts and letters. Most of the galleries contain things which the refugees carried with them from across the border and each of them conveys their personal experiences. Just by looking at them you realise how many memories are associated with each display and you understand the pain which they must have gone through while parting with their memories.
The Museum is spread across 17,000 square feet of space across 15 rooms over two floors. The Arts and Culture Heritage Trust (TAACHT) has been working on this concept since 2015 and the Museum now stands as a testimony of the labour and hard work put in by a lot of individuals and families associated with it.
We started from our hotel right after breakfast at 8am. It was a beautiful day and the drive was good. Our first stop after driving for about an hour was for coffee after which we headed straight to Alexandria and reached there almost 3 hours after leaving Cairo.
Our first stop in Alexandria was Catacomb of Kom el-Shogafa, a place which was discovered by accident in 1900. Legend has it that on 28 September 1900, a cart full of stone was travelling when the donkey took a misstep and disappeared in a hole. When people tried to rescue the donkey, they discovered a set of rock-cut tombs in an ancient catacomb. It is a matter of record that somebody by the name of Monsieur Es-Sayed Aly Gibrah reported that he had accidentally broken into a vault of an underground tomb.
The catacomb is truly an amazing structure 100 feet below the ground constructed in 2nd century AD in a mixture of Egyptian, Greek and Roman styles. It is believed that this catacomb was initially started for a single family but was later expanded for reasons yet unknown to us. There are stairs leading to the base of the tomb with places for sitting. There is a round shaft in the middle of the structure.
In excavations a lot of pottery was discovered which were bought by the people bringing in food for those buried there. Bones of horses, were also recovered proving that the favourite horses were also laid to rest there. The entire area outside the catacomb is littered with the archaeological finds.
Our next stop was the only surviving Seven Wonders of the World, Pompey’s pillar or the Memorial of Diocletian. It is a 28 m high red granite pillar and the highest memorial column in Egypt. It has a diameter of 2.7 m which tapers to 2.3m near the top. On its top, on the western side, there is an inscription that the invincible Postumus has erected this monument in honour of the Roman Emperor, Alexandria Diocletian between 284-305 AD. Around the pillar is the Serapium temple which lies in ruins now. It was dedicated to Egyptian Greek God Serapius and was built by Ptolemy I in 300 BC. It was destroyed in 391 AD by a Christian mob led by Bishop Theophilus.
After this we headed to the Fort Qaitbey built in the 14th century by Sultan Qaitbey to defend Alexandria from the Ottoman Empire who actually took charge of Egypt in 1512. The fort is built on a narrow piece of land which extends from the cornice. It offers a fantastic view of the Mediterranean sea. The fort was badly damaged by the British in 1882 but was later restored around the turn of 20th century. Currently it houses a small navy museum.
Next we headed for lunch at Athineos for a typical Egyptian grilled fish and rice lunch. It was an awesome lunch and view of cornice from the restaurant window was simply superb. From here we went to Alexandria library.
The Royal Library of Alexandria was one of the largest libraries of the ancient world and was dedicated to Muses, the nine goddess of the arts. It flourished during the Ptolemaic dynasty, from 3 century BC to 30th century BC. There were lecture halls, meeting rooms and gardens in it. Most of the books of that time were on Papyrus scrolls.
Sadly Julius Caesar’s army burned it down. During 1980s, a new library was built here by contributions from many countries around the world notably the Middle East and France. On 17 October 2002, 1600 years after the original was destroyed the new library was commissioned.
The new building has a Conference Center and a Planetarium apart from the main library. There is a library for visually impaired people and a restoration library. The building can house 20 million books and currently has 200,000 copies, 10,000 manuscripts and 50,000 rare books apart from a state of art book binding and a automatic copier on premises. It has been designed to last two centuries and currently receives about 800,000 visitors per day.
From the library we returned to Cairo bringing our Egypt holiday to an end. We returned home via Duabi with a truck load of sweet memories of mystical land Egypt.
Our flight from Luxor landed in Aswan before time. Luxor was cold and windy when we left but in Aswan but there was no wind, though it was cold too. At the Airport, it took a very long time for our luggage to arrive and by the time we reached our Hotel it was midnight. Being Thursday night Cairo was in a mood to party hard, and there was a lot of traffic on the roads. We finally checked in our hotel and headed straight to our room. Since we had not planned anything for Friday we were planning to sleep late.
After a relaxed morning we gave a miss to Hilton’s breakfast and instead headed straight to Felfela in Hoda Shaarawy Street, off Talat Harb in downtown Cairo for breakfast. I would definitely recommend this place to anybody visiting Cairo. After breakfast we roamed a bit in downtown Cairo, had a nice lunch in Akher Saa and came back to the hotel to take rest. In the evening, we had booked the Nile Dinner Cruise.
In the evening, we were picked by the tour company and taken straight to the jetty. Our boat had not still arrived. It was cold and very windy so we preferred to wait in the car. The boat arrived late but the 2 hours cruise on the Nile in the night was really worth the wait. Nile looked simply beautiful in the night with colourful city lights.
The food on the cruise, was okay and not that great or may be the food in Hilton Ramsesses had spoilt us, but the in-house entertainment on the boat was really good. The belly dancer, an American and the spinning Tanoura artist were really good as was the singer who was accompanied by foot tapping live music.
As the cruise ended, it was really hard to say good bye to the boat and return to land. But we had to as we were leaving for a day’s trip to Alexandria but we returned with loads of beautiful memories.
After a good Egyptian Kebab lunch we headed straight to the Aswan Railway Station to catch our train to Luxor. The train and platforms were much cleaner than I thought they will be. The seats in the train were comfortable and our ride to Luxor took three hours. While on the train, we also got an opportunity to see a bit of Egypt countryside, which was quite greener. We reached Luxor in the evening. The Luxor station was more crowded than Aswan.
From there we went straight to our Hotel. The Hotel, Emilio in Luxor was in the middle of the market overlooking the Nile. The views were very good but our stay was average.
Our first stop the day after, was The Valley of the Kings, on the west bank of the Nile. It was a long drive from our Hotel but totally worth it. At present in the valley, there are about 63 tombs dating back 500 years from 16th to 11th century BC. All these are royal tombs cut into the rock for Pharaohs and other powerful nobles. Among them is also the famous tomb of Tutankhamen.
Most of these tombs have been plundered and looted of the riches, but they still gives a fair idea of their opulence. The floods, the toxics in the air and even mass tourism have taken a toll on them. So now only a few tombs are open to tourists. Yet the Tutankhamen tomb remains most famous archaeological sites in the world. It is part of the World Heritage site.
To avoid further damage dehumidifiers have also been installed inside and the tombs are opened on a rotation basis to tourists. To protect the paintings on the rocks photography is not allowed inside the tombs.
The tomb of Ramesses II.
It is a complex tomb about 125 meters long, from the entrance there is stairway leading to the 1st corridor with small annex on either side. This then leads to a second corridor leading to a dead-end room. This is because by miscalculations they hit another tomb and abandoned the work. Later Ramesses III continued with the 3rd corridor, though access to it for tourists was blocked and we were not allowed to go further.
Tomb of Tutankhamen.
Most of the things that were found here have been moved into the museums.
Next on our tour was the Temple of Hatshepsut.
This temple lies beneath the Deir el Bahari cliff and is a very beautiful structure. There were terraces, gardens of frankincense trees and other rare plantations. It was built by Queen Hatshepsut and there were a number of her portraits on the rocks which were later destroyed on royal orders after her death. In the surviving portraits, she appears as a male pharaoh with royal headdress and kilt and sometimes with a false beard.
There is a ramp leading to the courtyard and from there is another ramp leading to the terraces, where off course access to tourists is not allowed.
Our next stop was the Temple of Karnack. It is huge complex which was built over 2000 years and has many temples dedicated to God Amun Ra. Although most of it is in ruins it can still give a run for their money to many modern-day structures. Their size and grandeur is unmatched even today. You just keep wondering, how did they do it in those days thousand of years ago.
It is the largest religious place ever built and had been a place of pilgrimage for almost 2000 years. It is spread in 61 acres and is virtually impossible to see it in one day. So we visited the most important sites.
The Hypostyle hall is 54,000 sq feet and has 134 columns and is most definitely the largest hall any religious place has in the world. Apart from columns there is a beautiful lake which is now artificially filled with water. There were gardens and aviary surrounding it. The festival of Opet used to commence here and the procession ended at Luxor temple, 2.4 kms away.
From here we moved to our last stop in Luxor, the Luxor Temple. During the early days Thebes, the city of hundred gates stood where the modern town of Luxor is now. It was the capital of Egypt. The Temple of Luxor is built on the banks of river Nile by Amenhotep and completed by Tutankhamen. Later Ramses II also added some structures. The granite shrine near the end of the temple is dedicated to Alexander the Great (332-305BC).
From Luxor temple we returned to the Airport for our flight back to Cairo.
We left for Abu Simbel at 4 am in the morning. It was dark and quite outside and we did not see many people on the road except an occasional policeman. After a very short ride, we were stopped at a check post just before entering the desert. There were a number of tourist buses and private cars full of tourists before us in the queue. We were told that the post would open at 5 am, which meant a halt of about 20-25 minutes.
It was pitch dark, breezy and cold outside, so we sat in the car and waited. I was feeling a bit sleepy so I kind of dozed off. When I re opened my eyes we were well into our drive to Abu Simbel and the day had just broken out. As I looked out of the window of the car, this sight greeted me, a beautiful sunrise in the desert.
The Abu Simbel Temples, built by ancient Egyptians in a village in Nubia region are near the Sudan border, which explains the checking and presence of Police and Army in the area. The temples are about 300 kms from Aswan and are on the banks of Lake Nasser. They are UNESCO World Heritage Site and were relocated to their present site after the original site was flooded by the Nasser dam.
For the Egyptians in particular, the temples hold a very special place as they were built in 13th century, during the reign of Pharaoh Ramses II, by cutting into the rock. They were called “Temple of Ramesses, beloved by Amun Ra”. They were built to commemorate his victory in the Battle of Kaddish and to remember his queen Nefertiti.
In 1968, after the Nasser dam was built, these temples were submerged in the water and had to be relocated to their present site. Till 1813, these temples were covered in sand till they were discovered. The legend has it that Abu Simbel was the name of the local boy who guided the re-discovery.
They are truly awe inspiring structures and one wonders how they were built in the first place and later shifted to their present site. Truly these wonderful monuments should be on every traveller’s bucket list. Sadly though photography is not allowed inside the temples.
After visiting the temples, we returned to Aswan, and headed straight to quick lunch near the railway station as we were going to travel to Luxor by Egypt Railways train at 3pm. More about the journey and food later.
We had an early morning flight from Cairo to Aswan. While going to the Airport another myth about Egypt was broken. I saw girls out on streets of Cairo at 3 am walking without fear, unaccompanied by any male, something I haven’t seen in India. Later I was told that Cairo never really sleeps, juice shops, tea houses, pharmacies, restaurants and clothes shop never really shut in Cairo and the people love to party.
In Aswan, the weather was very windy when we landed and we had to rush to the Airport lounge from the aircraft.
After collecting our luggage we headed straight to the Aswan Dam or Nasser Dam. Before this dam was built in Egypt, it faced a problem of flooding in the Nile and the other dam was inadequate to meet the growing water requirements of the country.
The Aswan dam was built between 1960-1970, during President Nasser’s time to control the flooding better and increase the water storage. Some people refer to as Nasser dam as it was built during his Presidency.
No photography is permitted except via cell phones as it the dam is higher than the city and is considered a security risk. The entire area surrounding it is controlled by the Egyptian Army.
The dam is 3830 meters long and 980 m wide at the base and can hold 132 cubic kilometers of water. A lot of people and monuments had to be moved / relocated to construct this dam. Abu Simbel temples were also moved from the original site. The Russian President played a crucial role in its constructions and on completion called it the eighth wonder of the world.
From here we moved to the Philae temple which were constructed on an island inside the low dam. This site was constantly damaged due to floods and some serious irreparable damage has been caused to the temples and other monuments.
Philae had been the burying place of Osiris and both Egyptians and Nubians hold it high esteem. Its location, close to Tropic of Cancer makes its remarkable for effects of lights and shades. There are numerous monuments of various eras here.
While we were there on the island, the weather suddenly turned bad and we were hit by a severe sand storm. For a few minutes everything turned yellow (the colour of the sand) and we had to cut short our stay and move to the main land. In fact our was the last boat to leave after that the Police stopped tourists from visiting the island.
We reached the city and went for a late lunch. After lunch we headed straight to our Hotel as we had to leave for Abu Simbel Temples before the crack of dawn. It was after all a six hour drive to and from Abu Simbel Temple.
It was indeed a beautiful evening in Aswan and the view from our Hotel’s rooftop was simply unbelievable. Across Aswan, right opposite our hotel was Tomb of Governors, the Keeper of the Gate of the South, which was lit up in the evening. We didn’t have time to go there but enjoyed the view from our Hotel rooftop.