Sep 29, 2018

Deva Deva Vana, Bidar-Zaheerabad road

September 4, 2018
The last day of our Bidar trip, we woke up early, went for a walk, had tea, bought newspaper at KSRTC bus-stand and went to Gurudwara. We found a spot under a tree, sat there taking in the peaceful ambiance. We left with plans to come back for a Punjabi breakfast. Back at the hotel, we got ready, checked out and headed back to the Gurudwara. We had aloo paratha, gobi paratha and lassi.. relished every bite and sip. As we headed towards Zaheerabad, we stopped by a flour mill to grind jowar into flour. With that one domestic chore was done during our holiday. Our next stop would be the forest department's botanical garden.

Deva Deva Vana is a popular weekend spot for Bidarians. Its situated on Bidar-Zaheerabad road, about 6 kms from Bidar. There's a board on the highway marking the place. That's the entrance to garden-forest..

At the entrance a forest department board formally identifies Deva Deva Vana. The place is open to public between 1PM and 6PM from Thursday to Tuesday and closed on Wednesdays. A nominal entrance fees is charged.

A creeper welcomes visitors, cool shade and fresh air. Vana is a Sanskrit word which means "forest" and Deva means divine beings.

A map of a garden shows the location of various gardens here. Deva Deva Vana consist of at least 10 gardens and one nursery. Here's the list-

  • Rock Garden
  • Medicinal Nursery
  • Japanese Garden
  • Rose Garden
  • Ashoka Vana
  • Shiva Panchayath Vana
  • Brahat Pachavati Vana
  • Rashi Vana
  • Phala Pushpa Vana
  • Navagraha Vana
  • Nandana Vana
Stone tablets with short descriptions are placed at some of these Vanas. Some names have been picked from Hindu legends.

Pushpa shooting a video as we walk down the path.

A wavy Bougainvillea branch sticks out from the bush.

An angular tree..

We passed by Nandana Vana. Here's a rough translation of its description in Kannada- It is said that Kalidasa has described Nandana Vana in Mangalashtak Grantha. In this garden ten types of flowering trees which purify air are being nurtured. These trees bear flowers and fruits in all seasons. According to astrology, preserving such trees does good to the world in general.

Next we reached Ashoka Vana. In Valmiki Ramayana, Ashoka Vana is the where Sita was kept after Ravana abducts here. Ashoka garden was situated in Sri Lanka's capital city. In this garden are several multipurpose medicinal trees and also creepers which can cure sadness.

Shelters and children's park in Ashoka Vana. This spot would be bustling during weekends and holidays.

A stripey trunk of a fast-growing tree. In the background, Pushpa takes a break from shooting videos and switches to selfies :)

This forest has few streams running through it. Probably a century ago they flowed through out the year. Now they run only when it rains. One of the few bridges. I think this spot is marked as 'wooden bridge' in the map at the entrance. Looks like the wooden bridge has been replaced with a metallic one.
With pleasure comes little pain in the form of mosquitoes. They had bitten Pushpa on her arms, the itch was irritating her. Would be good idea to apply insect repellent before entering forests.

Next in our path was Shiva Panchayath Vana. Here's a bad translation of its description: Nature is made of earth, water, fire, air and ether. Ganapati, Ambika, Vishnu and Shiva are the principals of these elements. Shiva is said to be chief principal hence this garden is called as Shiva Panchayath Vana. As per Chudamani Grantha, a poor Brahman named Shandilya worshiped these Gods and with their blessings he was reborn as Emperor Jayadatta.

Being dedicated to Shiva, this garden has lot of Bilva Patri trees. For some reason, the sight of certain trees makes me extra happy. Bilva Patri tree is one of them.

A clump of bamboo..  yellow-green is a lively combination. There are Frangipani trees too.

Next in our path was Navagraha Vana. Navagraha means nine planets and heavenly bodies. Each of the Navagraha are related to particular tree based on their gender, age and color. In the 5th Century, the related plants' parts were used in Yagnas. The planets- Ravi, Shukra, Shani, Guru, Mangala, Chandra, Rahu, Ketu and Budha are associated to plants namely- Yekke, Atti, Arali, Khadira, Muttuga, Garike, Dharba and Uttarani.

Having seen so many varieties, I was wondering if there's Krishnae Ficus as well. It was as though I'd sensed it.. a minute later I was actually staring at a tree.. it was Krishnae Ficus indeed! Wow, this is amazing. Actually there are four trees within the circular enclosure which is named as Bruhat Panchavati Vana. At the center is a Neem tree with a platform around its base. This enclosure is for meditation.

Here's one of the four Krishnae Ficus. They seem of different ages. One of the trees has aerial roots - this could be the oldest.

Krishna's buttercups. So far I've seen Krishna Ficus at the Karnataka University, Dharwad and Lalbagh, Bengaluru. Its nice to be seeing them at Bidar. Here are the links to-
1, Ficus Krishnae at Karnataka University, Dharwad
2. Ficus Krishnae at Lalbagh, Bengaluru

Generally Krishna Ficus grows in cool weather and needs lot of rain. Bengaluru and Dharwad climatic conditions are good for Ficus. Coming to Bidar, Krishna Ficus may not have grown unless it nursed by humans. Thanks to Karnataka Forest Department, particularly the staff at Bidar. Young buttercup leaves soaking in sunlight.

Besides, Neem (Bevina Mara) and Ficus Krishna (Krishnana Benne Battilu Mara) there are Indian gooseberry (Bettada Nallikai Mara) too.

Bettada Nellikai ready for picking. This berry has medicinal properties, should be consumed regularly.

I picked few buttercup leaves.. drying process just started, half dry and completely dry.

Having discovered Krishna Ficus in Bidar district made my day. We decided to leave since Pushpa was irritated by the itchy mounds on her arms. We missed seeing the medical nursery and rock garden.. surely we'll plan another visit some time.

We resumed our journey to Hyderabad.

Bidar.. see you again soon.
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Sep 26, 2018

flora of Nagarjunakonda

Nagarjunakonda gives a warm flowery welcome to tourists. Landscaping around the museum is maintained by the gardening team. Nothing exotic, just the local plants which thrive with little care.

This is my childhood favorite.. yellow bells. I think its a wild plant. Its flowers don't have any aroma as such but they have bright and warm.

Then there are periwinkles. I consider this wild since it grows anywhere on its own. Its flowers are used for Hindu rituals. I'm not sure if white periwinkles were there as well.

Few cedars along the footpath near the museum. If you crush a leaf between your fingers, it leaves a pleasant smell. Never tried smelling its pods, must check it out once.

Close to the museum is the fort wall. Once we cross over, except for the path and monuments everything is wild. Survival of the fittest. The cactus has to compete with grass.. look I'm taller. When the grass is green it stand 3 to 4 feet high. Its quite dense, hardly any dirt seen where there;s grass.

This cactus is completely new to me. I don't recall seeing it elsewhere. Probably I'd not noticed. Anyway, the unique characteristic is its scaly skin and lack of particular shape. They grow in clumps, can't say if its one plant or several plants. I found this particular plant artistic. There's some method to madness in this cactus.

Chaotic! Isn't it? Wish I'd brought one leaf and planted it in a pot.

Like a bunch of banana. Its mostly green or brown. I think the older leaves turn brown.

Its thorns ensures good protection. No animal will dare touch this cactus, leave alone eat it.

This plant is slightly different, smaller in size and has more thorns. Even the thorns are of two colors- white and red.

This is a zoomed out view of the plant above. The bulbs are smaller in size, thorns are longer. I did not try feeling the thorn tips.. should've done that. I'll call this porcupine cactus.

I was wrong about anything touching these plants. A spiders has woven its web on it. So that means insects thrive on these cactus. Also, notice the small grass on the side. The soil type is different here, its kind of sandy.

Closer look at the plant and cobweb. The scales are same as the larger plants but the bulb sizes are smaller.

This too is a wild cactus but this one has been planted by gardeners. Its like a domesticated leopard.

Coming to the last picture. This is a Peepul tree with celebrity status. This was planted by Dalai Lama during this visit to this island in 2006. The plant is revered by tourists, especially the Buddhist tourists. This is situated about 40m from the Maha Chaitya, the largest Stupa on this island and most revered monument because of its connection to Gautama Buddha himself. There are several pillars on the Stupa, one of the pillar carries an inscription in Pali stating that a fragment of Buddha's bone was found in this Stupa. Check out Mahachaitya in this post- Nagarjunasagar and Nagarjunakonda - part 4.

Plant life is truly amazing. They are better than animals when it comes to survival. Currently man is on a rampage, destroying plant life. There might be a day when Nature will end human madness and let plants rule the Earth. I just wish it happens.
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Sep 22, 2018

Indian River Terns at Nagarjunasagar

A good part of the two hour boat ride in Nagarjunasagar was spent mostly watching birds and there was only type- the Indian river tern. What really attracted humans to this bird was their airborne antics. The simple looking tern is an amazing flyer, very graceful movements. Even in strong breeze, terns fly with ease, always in control. Here are few pictures I shot with my Canon, basic telephoto lens. The terns occasionally flew close to the boat, that's when we got these shots. The camera was in continuous shoot mode.. just keep the button pressed and follow the tern. Since it was after sunset, pictures were dull and I had to balance the colors. Of all pictures here, I rated this best.

Quoting a para from the River Tern article in Wikipedia:  The Indian river tern or just river tern (Sterna aurantia) is a tern in the family Laridae. It is a resident breeder along inland rivers from Iran east into the Indian Subcontinent and further to Myanmar to Thailand, where it is uncommon. Unlike most Sterna terns, it is almost exclusively found on freshwater, rarely venturing even to tidal creeks.

This tern has swept its wings backward to the maximum extent, ready for the next downward swing.

Wings swept down halfway. In this view, it looks like a seaplane.

Here its changing direction, its turning left and also moving higher.

Flying parallel to the surface and eyeing for fishes below.

This one is slightly pointed downward, about to dive. A good breeze was blowing hence the wavy surface.

This was shot in the morning, hardly any breeze, water was calm, gentle waves and at some places it was almost mirror like. This is the time fishes jump out.. actually we could see hundreds of small fishes jumping as though they are inviting the terns.. come catch us. Yeah, the terns do catch them in flight.. breakfast served in a platter.

This cuboid boulder caught my attention. It sits there peacefully on Nagarjunakonda shore, close to the docking point. The boulder is a record keeper.. you can see how high water had risen. The white marks are left when water stayed that level several months. The other interesting aspect is the white marks on the top.. bird droppings, in fact its tern dropping. That's a favorite rest point for these lovely birds. The two birds in air are probably crows, there's a large flock on Nagarjunakonda.. caw caw caw!
Nagarjunakonda has an interesting terrain, its quite wild with thorny shrubs, cacti, small and medium sized trees. There was evidence of wild boar's presence. Besides, boars, this terrain is home for hare, porcupine, wildcat, snakes and other small animals.
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Sep 15, 2018

Nagarjunasagar and Nagarjunakonda - part4

..continued from Nagarjuna Sagar and Nagarjunakonda - part 3

Having seen Mahachaitya the largest Stupa on this island we move on and reach the next monument- Aswamedha tank, the sacrificial altar. This too is a restored monument which was originally in river Krishna valley. This monuments has two main structures, both are elaborately designed pits. Then are smaller square shaped pits as well. This pit here looked like a big bathing tank at the first glance. However this is pit used for sacrificing horses. I'm trying to imagine a horse standing in it.

A stone tablet describes the monument as follows-
Aswamedha Tank: The founder of the Ikshvaku dynasty performed the well known sacrifice of the horse kundam 'Aswamedha' This ritual was one among the very elaborate sacrifices prescribed to be performed only by a king of unquestionable authority and who had the recognition of his neighborly kings as their overlord. The tank was intended for the final purification bath and the structure in the shape of a tortoise was known as Kurma Chiti where part of the horse was sacrificed.

The pit has two entrances, this one here is with three steps. A narrow shoulder runs along the perimeter, it looks like a seat but may not be. The pit seems to have a drain hole, not sure its part of the original design or if was created by restorers to let rainwater seep into the ground below.

Lengthwise view of Kurma tank. In this view, the tortoise shape is evident. The projecting part at the right-end is the head and its flanked by two feet. No idea why the pit had to be shaped like this.. why not a simple circular pit. There are articles about Kurma pillars but not much about Kurma pit.

Here's a map of the island showing locations of monuments on it. So you'll get an idea where we are currently- Ashwamesha site.


Besides the Kurma pit is this larger pit, a stepped tank with a platform around it. This tank was meant for purification bath.. for those participating in the rituals.

It seems the projections around the tank were individual seats. Probably after the bath, individuals would sit and meditate before initiating the ritual.

Almost symmetrical in plan in either axis except for the circular hole in one corner. I'm guessing water flowed into the tank from that corner.

Closer look at the water hole. Probably there was a canal which fed water to this pit, water would pour into this rectangular pit and flow into the stepped tank. Water had to flow slowly to so that bricks do not wear out quickly. It would be interesting to see the sight back in time. As I took pictures, Pushpa and Bhuvana had taken refuge of the only shaded spot. Pushpa wanted to head back but I wanted to check out the reminder of the path. I suggested they go back and wait for me at Dalai Lama tree near Maha Chaitya.

View of Kurma tank and smaller pits from the stepped tank platform. Wondering if the smaller pits and Kurma tank were inter-connected through underground pipes. Things connected to Vedic culture are usually complicated, of course there would be a purpose to it.

The stepped tank platform gave a glimpse of Nagarjuna Sagar. Beyond the water is another island, much larger, its wild, no signs of human activity. There's lot of wildlife on these island such as boars, rabbits, porcupines, may be wild cats too. This is the general terrain grass, thorny bushes, thorny shrubs and cactus too. Weather is generally warm and arid hence the presence of thorny flora.

Close to the end of the tourist path is this monument- Swastika Stupa. Its about 16' in diameter with a Swastika at its core enclosed in concentric stone rings. Swastika is one symbol common to many faiths across the globe. Quting a para from Wikipedia: In Hinduism, the clockwise symbol is called Swastika, symbolizing Surya, prosperity and good luck, while the counterclockwise symbol is called Sauvastika, symbolizing night or tantric aspects of Kali. In Jainism, a swastika is the symbol for Suparshvanatha — the 7th of 24 Tirthankaras (spiritual teachers and saviours), while in Buddhism it symbolizes the auspicious footprints of the Buddha.

A stone tablet describes the monument as- Swastika Stupa: This transplanted Stupa was originally part of a complex located the Mahavihara Vasin monastery in the valley. The remains of of this structure has interesting arrangement of bricks in the center of the hub in the shape of Swastika from with its arms turning clockwise. The Swastika Stupa is an exceptional example of the Buddhist architecture of Nagarjunakonda valley.

Glad to have seen the Swastika, it gives positive  vibes. A security guard has told to turn back after seeing Swastika Stupa, it may not be safe to venture beyond it because of wild animals. Having come so far it, I didn't want to miss seeing what lay beyond the walls.. who knows there might be a unmarked monument. No, such luck but there was an antique trolley parked in the middle of the road. Behind me, to the left are several vacant houses, I think they are staff quarters built for this restoration project. I rested few minutes in the shade and silence.. so peaceful. Wish I could get a job on this island :)

I trek back to Dalai Lama tree where my companions were resting. I too rest, have water and cucumber.. ah refreshing it was! We were hungry but we wanted to have lunch close to the museum itself. I did not want to walk around too much after the meal, hence the plan. Back near the fort wall, Pushpa mentioned that we could see the ancient well before reaching the museum and there was a shortcut. We left the cement path and took this dirt path passing through the fort wall.

A well used passage during those days. Close to this wall, behind us is the ancient well which is really wide.

Here's the ancient well. Its mouth at ground level is 52 meters (170'). A flight of steps descends into its belly. This well seems to be dug before or during the time fort was built here. Probably the hacked out stone was used for building fort walls or the circular pyramid.

Opposite the museum, we found a cool spot under a tree, had idli we had picked up at Vijayapuri, then chatted as we rested 30 minutes. Around the spot we could see patches of disturbed ground which I recognized as wild boars' work. During rain season when soil is soft they dig with their snouts for earthworms. In fact I saw patches near the circular pyramid as well. A very busy island during nights.

Having rested, we made our way to the museum, a stone structure with circular windows with coiled serpent grill. Each of these windows is framed with a Stupa like section which also seems like a Lotus. Whoever designed the building wanted to give it a touch of Buddhism. The museum interior is spacious, with the high ceiling, it has a proper museum ambiance. The artifacts collection is mostly ancient sculptures, rare and valuable items. There was one section for prehistoric stone implements and pottery. A small collection of ancient swords and spears were also displayed. Besides ancient artifacts, there was one room with a 8' x 8' scale model of the Buddhist site in Krishna valley. If I remember correctly, about 60 structures were marked in it. Lot of effort by the team who created the model. Like most museums, photography is not allowed. After walking around 45 minutes, all of us badly wanted to sit, so we had to come out. Very close to the museum is the relocated bathing ghat.. missed taking pictures of it.

We were unsure of the boat timings and not willing to risk missing it, we headed back towards the docking point. The last boat arrived with a load of tourists and gave them an hour on the island. As soon as it was empty, we boarded and occupied seats. By departure the boat was filled beyond its capacity, there were people standing and sitting on the lower deck too.

Last look at the island, ruins of the fort walls on the eastern end.

Terns entertained us during the return journey. Their effortless sweeps, turns, twists, dives and take offs was amazing. We kept on shooting them through my telephoto lens in continuous shoot mode. Not very good pictures, I manipulated some to share them here. They seem to fish more during mornings and evenings and less during midday. In envied their freedom..

The return journey was slightly longer than the onward journey, probably because of the extra load in the boat. It was around 7 by the time we docked and reached the car park. It was a nice experience, the boat, wast sheet of water, the island, monuments, the silence.. We drove back to Vijay Vihar, freshened up, early dinner, short stroll and early to bed with plans of visiting Anupu archaeological site in the morning.
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