Melbourne Yarra-1.jpegWant to be clued-up on wines and cider ale? Take a weekend trip to Yarra valley. A bright sunny day is just perfect for this weekend outing. One hour away from hustle bustle of Melbourne city hit the highway and gentle slopes of Yarra valley(name derived from the Yarra river that surrounds).

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Want to know your pinot noir from the Merlot? Then hit the road to the most stunning wine regions that beckon tourists and locals by the drove.

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A peek to some of the sprawling farmlands and mansions of rich residents of Yarra is aspirational to great living even though tucked away from the city buzz. I skipped the luxury vineyard route, it’s awfully expensive and some of them have incredible Spa and suites option trails. A few brochures also announce hot air balloons (accompaniments of champagne and caviar on board) for somewhere around 500 Aus dollars.  Mel 5.jpegYarra valley is surrounded by verdant mountains as a striking milieu, and the vineyards make this a great getaway. Extraordinarily an old brewery factory outlet was the first stop we made. The quaint interiors with huge pipes snaking through, massive barrels of steel/Copper hop kilns were so impressive. This offering of authentic surroundings was a valid reason to start our rounds with beer.

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Beer is quintessential Aussie, Yarra valley in the early years was known to brew the favourite hop to perfection and maintains that position. Most of the kilns were imported all the way from Germany. Huge remnants of woodsheds can still be found and there are many beer stops, but now, vineyards have outdone the cider ale trail. At one of the craft brewery called The Barrel, freshly brewed beer was up for tasting, accompanied by great food.

Mel 1-1.jpg Some of the best Wineries are ageless and historic, they hold sway over the other luxury and newer lot. Drive around to check out some of the local produce, home made chocolates and jams, all organic sold in backyard barns tastefully done up.

IMG-20161016-WA0020_1.jpgI was disappointed to go through the 5 pm curfew time and a strawberry farmland owner crisply replied that at Yarra everyone wakes up at the crack of dawn and therefore must retire early!

IMG_2088.JPGChandon and Yering vineyards have breathtaking, cellar views that will forever be etched in my mind.

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The weekend I travelled was crowded with happy revellers, bikers, and fast cars. Chandon driveway was like a racing track. The green landscape undulates for as far as the eyes can see.

IMG_2089.JPGDomain Chandon situated in the Yarra valley is more known for its bubbly. The main cellar restaurant is dome shaped and has a patio with relaxed seating to admire the direct view of distant hills and breathe in fresh mountain air. Champagne is more expensive than wine, the food was exquisite, wish I had tried out the wine sampling before ordering sparkling wine! Surrounded by gorgeous gardens and vineyards my next stop at YarraYering was equally magnificent.

IMG_2094.JPG Yarra valley produces the best beers, pinot noir, sparkling wine (I was corrected at the table not to confuse it with champagne) and cooler wines.

IMG_2095.JPGBeautiful Yarra Yering with its brick walls and landscaped gardens made me more knowledgeable about wines and a wee bit drunk on fermented grape juice. I found it too dry for my liking but the red, white, the Chardonnay are famous from this cellar.

IMG_2101.JPGYarra Yering is one of the oldest wineries and has established themselves as the best in the business. A nominal charge of 10 dollars for wine tasting here is redeemable for any purchase.

IMG_2138.JPGWine tasting is not free in most wineries. The brick restaurant is quaint dishes out cuisine the complements dry wine.

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I bought many small take away bottles of different wines from yet another amazing Yarra experience.

IMG_2146.JPGRepeated trips here are a must, because apart from covering quaint to luxury wineries, spas, hotels, village shops that can’t be done in a day, the most important round the corner must see are the Dandenong ranges and Healesville Sanctuary.

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Great reason for me to visit Melbourne again!

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During my temple rounds in Odisha, Kumar the driver enjoyed accompanying me, he had gained easy access to most temples without paying the customary donations to the priest. Maussi Maa and Jagannath were the two temples he refused to step in but preferred waiting outside. Before checking out Jagannath temple, Kumar made an unexpected stop at a Japanese temple that was en route.

 image1.JPGThe Buddha temple on Station road is popularly known as Japanese temple. The stone masonry yard that adjoins this temple has incredible statues that are carved out of sandstone here. One of the masons alleged that many Japanese come here to pay their obeisance to the Buddhist order they follow. No one around could enlighten me of a statue in marble, a holy man in meditative pose at a corner of the Japanese temple.

 IMG_4230.JPGSome decades ago I had visited Jagannath temple and I distinctly remember the temple complex outside littered in sludge and muck. There was milling crowd all jostling at once to enter. I was steered by a tout who assured me that I would be taken without a hitch straight to the sanctum sanctorum. It was a nightmare and oil spill on the floor made approach to the temple treacherous. I slipped and fell several times, each doorway entrance to the inner sanctum were priests waiting to grab money from my wary clasped hands!

image1 (1).JPG Jagannath temple is one of the holiest, venerable temples in India for the Vaishnava sect. The historic temple is one of the four holy Dhams drawing millions to seek blessings of Lord Jagannath and was built in 1078 during the Kalinga reign.

 image2.JPGA good friend Deepa, an Oriya from Bhuvaneshwar gave me great insight to some of the myths and stories behind the great Jagannath temple. My visit this time around was with her as she had an important ceremony to conduct. Orissa, in general, seemed a far cry from my last visit to Puri, the roads appeared clean, the temple surrounding more organised and neat. There were a few touts hanging around and the general public could access the temple grounds freely. Non-Hindus are disbarred.

 image3.JPGThe renowned Jagannath temple is admired for its temple architecture and design. The quintessential fluted stone masonry is prevalent in most of the big temples of Orissa. As with the Lingraja, and Maussi Maa, Jagannath temple complex is expansive and the many domes of smaller temples within lead to the highest dome where the 3 idols made of wood are housed in the main inner sanctum. Every 14 years the idols of Lord Jagannath, his elder brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra are reestablished and is subject of one of the greatest folklores.

 image4.JPGReams can be written on some of the miracles, mysteries and architectural highlights of this temple, one must look out for the flag that flutters opposite to the wind directions, the chakra on top that appears to face all directions, the main dome never casts a shadow whatever time of day! Pragmatists claim it’s the engineering feat of the temple design but devotees that flock to this temple are ardent believers in the implausible and mysteries that have remained unanswered.

IMG_4226 (1).JPGSince ancient times Puri has held sway as the most powerful seat of spiritual sanctity. The temples that proliferate are reminiscent of Bali where I did a similar temple journey. A tout at Jagannath temple was telling me the number of annual religious festivities that take place here in Puri is unrelenting, practically every month!

IMG_4224.JPGThe Jagannath temple holds 13-14 annual festivities of which the Rath Yatra is the most important of festivals. Millions of people congregate to witness the route taken and for the devout, it’s not to be missed. Puri has always stood its ground against several Muslim attacks since the 4th cent AD to plunder its wealth which was well known, today this temple town of innumerable Hindu Monasteries is a great source of revenue to the State exchequer.

IMG_4223.JPGThe temple rounds in Puri left me searching for answers on a higher plain! What is it that makes people go in search of God, can one pray without asking for favours! Does a pilgrim Centre wake up that inert apathy to piety? The Russian lady in Puri alleged I lack Krishna consciousness! The temples that I visited next were undeniably overwhelming, it aroused my curiosity and the peace that we all are constantly searching for.

 P_20161201_132615_1_p.jpgThe next big temple is very significant, as this was the temporary abode of Lord Jagannath’s Aunt Subadhra Devi dotingly called Maussi Maa. (Grand road not too far from Jagannath temple). According to legends, when Goddess Lakshmi Devi returned to her father’s abode, Lord Jagannath had to leave his residence with Balabhadra to fend for himself.

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In his absence, his Aunt (Maussi Maa) held fort and even prevented a catastrophic storm by swallowing water of the sea thus saving the dwelling of Lord Jagannath! To this day most locals claim that Puri has never been inundated and suffered from floods. The famous Rath Yatra stops here on its return journey and offerings of Podha Pitha (baked rice cake) to the presiding deity is conducted in a grand way befitting the Maussi (Aunty) of the Lord.

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Beware of several stops by the priests at this temple, as was the case with other temples in Puri. The beauty and architecture of Maussi Maa temple are evolved and majestic. Many concur that this temple is the prototype of the Jagannath temple but on a much smaller scale. The grand entrance with its geometric levelled ceilings has many smaller temples dedicated to the presiding deity, Lakshmi, Ganesh within the complex. Priests bless the devotees for a sum amount and it is advisable not to accept trinkets and such from them as it leads to unpleasant bargaining.

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The main temple with fluted towers has the exemplary temple structure of Jagannath and even houses the 3 idols of the same size (again a prototype). Incidentally, apart from the 9 day Rath Yatra festivity, Maussi Maa remains open more as a temple visit.

(to be concluded)-6

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