About Rama Arya

A communication entrepreneur and capacity builder (thecommunique.co.in); a blogger on travel, contemporary Indian art and giving back initiatives (ramaarya.blog); a blogger on communication (ramaarya.tumblr.com); a volunteer with #DaanUtsav Joy of Giving Week; and a minimalist. When I am not doing all of the above, I love taking long walks and cook a mean plate of chicken jalfrezi. :)

india travel shot: wonders of trichy’s vishnu temple—travel like today is all you’ve got

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My beloved mom on our long-distance WhatsApp call: “You have just come back from Mysore!”

Me: “The temple towns of Tamil Nadu are a world apart.”

My beloved mom: “Why don’t you go later, say in April?”

Me: “Nooooo. That will be too late!”

I often have conversations like the above with my mom. She is a homebody. I am usually looking for the next travel adventure.

This time it was no different. Wrong, it was different.

When I said it will be “too late” I had no idea that barely two weeks after my return from a 7-day exploration of the temple towns of Tamil Nadu, the world would be turned completely topsy-turvy by a virus called COVID-19. Especially my own city, Mumbai. Curfews. Lockdowns. Flights, trains, buses, cabs—all services cancelled. I have been living, like others in the Maximum City which never sleeps, in self-isolation since the 22nd of March. No one in my gated community is allowed to step out of one’s main doors. Today is the ninth day.

There is absolute silence everywhere. Even the pigeons have decided to give my balconies a miss. I look out from my 16th floor apartment and whoa, I see them strutting on the highway and flying in low circles over the lawns below instead. Free. I can even hear sparrows chirping. And it hits me that maybe they came to my balconies for refuge, to save themselves from the noise and pollution we heap, unthinking, everywhere and anywhere we can.

I am, like you, cooped up in my home with no idea of when this will end. The numbers keep increasing every day. As I write this post the counts are: 722,350 cases in 199 countries and territories globally. 33,980 deaths globally. All in a matter of a few weeks. Even as I write this paragraph, the numbers keep going up.

Dear Reader, don’t leave your dreams and passions for tomorrow! This is the one key reiteration I have had from this ongoing pandemic.

When I went to Trichy [short form for Tiruchirappalli] earlier this month and stood on Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple’s roof, surrounded by the colossal, colourful gopuras over the gateways, I had gasped at the sheer beauty around me. Gods, goddesses, local legends, and secular folks were piled up high on the towers. A heady eclectic riot of characters and stories, surreal in its vivid intensity.

The temple complex is India’s largest functioning temple and a mini-city in itself with 7 enclosures, nestled within each other, punctuated with 21 towering gopuras [entrances with towers]. Vishnu, the presiding deity lies on a coiled snake in the innermost sanctum. Over the past 2,000 years, every dynasty ruling the region has added its bit to this mind-boggling structure.

When I close my eyes even now, I can feel I am back in Trichy. Back on that roof of the tentatively-listed UNESCO World Heritage Site. The deities all around me, partly lost in their own worlds, and partly amused at my bewitchment with them.

Once we are out of this pandemic, do travel, whenever you can. Or whatever it is that makes you super-happy and does not cause harm to others. Don’t leave it for another tomorrow. Gasp at the wonders whilst there is still a gasp and a wonder—and the twain can meet. ❤


Detail: Vishnu seated under the hood of the serpent god Sheshnaga with his consorts Sridevi [Laxmi] to his left, and Bhudevi and Neeladevi to his right.

once upon a day in mysore: a one day itinerary of south india’s royal city

What if I told you there is a small town in South India which will forever remain your favourite, long after you visit it. What if I told you that in this town, frangipani trees sway gently and history, heritage, art and literature sit in easy camaraderie. That people here are simpler and the sky is bluer. Would the traveller in you jump for it?

I am talking about Mysore, renamed Mysuru, its original name, in 2014.

Less than a million-population live under its green shade of aged fig trees and their sprawling branches. Its wide dusty roads weave their way through a life where nothing much has changed over time.

From 1399 to 1950 Mysore was the seat of the Wodeyar dynasty, rulers of the Kingdom of Mysore except for a brief interlude when Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan snatched the reigns. The Wodeyar family still lives in the Mysore Palace and the dynasty’s legacy permeates the entire town. From its seven palaces, of which two have been turned into museums, to its tutelary goddess perched high up on a hill, to its terraced gardens over the sacred Cauvery river. Continue reading

srirangapatna, historical capital of tipu sultan: the why, what, where, when, how guide

Some 18.5 kilometres to the north-east of Mysore city, on an island called Srirangapatna, lies a dusty town lost in time. Its current worn state belies its glorious past which still reveals itself shyly from behind its weathered structures.

Key historical events have taken place on its softly undulating plains. Larger than life rulers who till date evoke strong emotions made the island the centre of their universe.

Welcome to my guide on Srirangapatna, capital of the 18th Century ruler Tipu Sultan aka the Tiger of Mysore. The Why, What, Where, When and How guide of a town well off the usual tourist circuit, but deeply ingrained in every Indian history book, mass media, world museums and private collections.

[Note: Top image: Detail, Fourth Anglo-Mysore War, 4 May 1799, British East India Company painting.] Continue reading

travel diaries: in search of shravanabelagola’s bahubali

The entire 615 steps carved into the rock’s gleaming surface rose straight above me. No left or right turns. Just straight up, with a rudimentary metal rod for support along its length. Some of the steps were shallow, others steep. All equally worn out under the bare feet of countless pilgrims and travellers over a thousand years. The steps themselves were just as bare under the scorching sun, minus any shade whatsoever.

Only one spiritually legitimate way exists to reach the 58-feet-8-inch-high naked granite monolith of Bahubali Gommateshwara, the inimitable deity-hero in Jainism perched on top of the sacred Vindhyagiri Hill in Shravanabelagola. It is by climbing up these steps.

Though another flight of steps winds its way up on the western side of the 470-feet-high hill, this is the original path cut into the rock by Chavundaraya, a Ganga dynasty minister and commander way back in 981 AD. And by now you know me. It had to be the original path for me. 😀

It was 1 in the afternoon when I reached the minuscule town of Shravanabelagola after exploring the Hoysala temple at Somanathapur. My plan was to use one of the palanquins I had read about to reach the top. But do plans ever go as planned? Continue reading

poetry, myths and stone: the millennia-old sculpted hoysala temples of karnataka

Cries of “Hoy, Sala” [Strike, Sala] rang out as Sala, a Jain youth, single-handed fought a tiger to save his guru. It was around 950 AD, in the Deccan plains of South India. He immortalised this cry in the name of the dynasty he founded—Hoysala—which ruled the region till 1355 AD. The incident became its emblem.

Sandwiched between the Chalukya dynasty in Badami and the ruling Cholas in Thanjavur, Sala and his descendants created a flourishing agrarian empire populated by a sophisticated society, and where the arts thrived. Their capital was Belur, then called Velapuri. Vishnuvardhana [1108 – 1152 AD], the 5th Hoysala king, later moved his capital to Halebidu, 17 kilometres away, where it stayed till the end.

Though Hoysala palaces and homes are long gone, their stone temples still stand. Even time and wars have not been able to diminish their exquisite beauty, a fascinating peek into a by-gone society’s values and aesthetics.

So, if you ever thought all temples in India look the same, think again. Each dynasty and empire have created its own inimitable style through history. Hoysala temples are typified by being star-shaped, compact structures on a raised platform, ornate with a focus on dance and music, and carved out of soapstone. Continue reading

why tipu sultan’s dariya daulat bagh will take your breath away

Two-hundred-and-fifty years ago lived a man renowned for his opulence, and bravery. He was fearless. Nothing scared him. Or perturbed him. He also had a deep abhorrence for the British East India Company and its colonial inroads into India.

His name was Tipu Sultan, ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore. And his capital was Srirangapatna [spelt Seringapatam by the British], an island plonk in the middle of the mystical Cauvery River in present-day Karnataka.

It was to this tiny little, steeped in history, sleepy town that I found myself one day during my Mysore travels. Where.time.stood.still. And there were stories galore. Continue reading

global travel shot: the durbar hall in mysore palace

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I could never get tired of exploring India. This past week, I stumbled upon a new found love. A love for India’s southern states. I was in Mysore.

The Durbar Hall, also known as Sajje or Dasara Hall, in Mysore Palace is the most photographed room, for a better word, in the city. I had visited the palace earlier, many moons ago, as part of a college educational two-week trip. I remember, distinctively, I had found it kitsch and over the top, and was quick to dismiss it.

I guess I have changed. It is still kitsch, but this time I found beauty in its perfect symmetry. The grandeur, imposing. The stories in its walls – riveting. Continue reading

a self-guided walk through biblical mount of olives

Caution: This post is for travellers. Not tourists.

Whew. Now that I have got that out of the way, let me write on. Comforted by the thought you and I are on the same page.

Some of us like to wander. To immerse ourselves at a particular site just because, inexplicably, it touches a chord within us. To gaze at the details. Behind and under the obvious. To look at all versions of history and legends with an open mind.

The reason I bring it up particularly for my post on the Mount of Olives is because one cannot not visit the Mount of Olives while in Jerusalem. For that would be blasphemy. But you’d like to do it at your own pace.

Why? Because you are in the Holy Land. And Jesus Christ spent his last night before his crucifixion as well as ascended to heaven from here. Christian communities from around the globe have built a string of lovely churches down a near perpendicular street between these two key sites. Because you do not have to be believers of the Old or New Testament to believe in a higher sacred self. Or Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. But also, because the view from the top and the walk to the bottom is what memories, which make you all starry-eyed once back home, are made of. 🙂 Continue reading

36 hours in tel aviv

Flashback. 11 April, 1909. There are 66 Jewish families standing in a circle on a desolate sand dune, just north of Jaffa, the ancient Arab port-city on the Mediterranean coast. Inside the circle are two boxes. One contains 60 grey seashells with plot numbers and the other has 60 white seashells with names of the families. A girl randomly picks up a grey seashell while a boy picks up a white seashell.

And hence, the first 60 plots of Tel Aviv meaning the ‘hill of spring’ are assigned and Israel’s future city is born. Within one year all the homes are built along with the main streets.

Flashforward. November 2019. The Tel Aviv I am standing in is futuristic and forward-looking. It is an IT hub, gay capital of the Middle East, vegan capital of the world, secular, hedonistic, and has an all-night party scene and 15 kilometres of sun, sand and sea.

There are around 3,000 high-tech companies and start-ups in the city, the highest outside Silicon Valley, to the extent Tel Aviv and its surrounding areas are called Silicon Wadi [Wadi is Arabic for valley]. The technology behind all chats, the world’s first anti-virus software, and USB stick were invented here.

I see lesbian couples indulging in heavy PDA and muscled men in leather briefs strut down the jogging paths on Rothschild Boulevard. Everyone seems to have a dog. According to statistics, Tel Aviv has a 17-to-1 people to dog ratio and 60 dog parks. And yes, it is also one of the top 10 cities for the most beautiful women … and men.

But Tel Aviv is not just all beauty and brains and their furry best friends, as I discovered. Continue reading

the three magnificent jewels of israel’s judaean desert

It was 2 am and I could not take my eyes off the exhilarating landscape in the travel documentary. I sat hunched over my computer with goose bumps on my arms, infatuated at the desert and oasis and sea which unfurled in front of me. I was leaving for Israel in a couple of weeks.

“This can’t be for real???” was all my cynical mind could muster at regular intervals. But numerous other media reiterated the same splendours with stubborn vendetta to my doubting self.

Not many places live up to their hype—except the Judaean Desert. As I discovered last year in November. Continue reading

nazareth, in search of jesus christ’s hometown

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

“Come and see.”

The above conversation took place between two of Jesus Christ’s would-be disciples, Nathanael and Philip, some 2,000 years ago and has been recounted many times over through the Bible.

Nazareth back then was a city steeped in vice. Against a backdrop of crime and derelict morals, a young innocent virgin was told she would give birth to the son of god. This son went on to spend his childhood and youth in Nazareth’s by-lanes and eventually lead a religion that has 2.4 billion followers today or almost one-third of the global population.

Though Bethlehem is more closely associated with Christ during Christmas, I thought I’d write about his hometown instead this festive season, and the sites connected with his home and family—for is that not what Christmas is about? A time for celebration with family. 😊 Continue reading

global travel shot: uninterrupted prayers at the wailing wall

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Welcome to my blog post series on Israel, a tiny country where world politics and religions converge, and it takes a mere five hours to drive across its entire length. 🙂

So, is Israel on your bucket list? It was on mine. For a very long time. But I was filled with doubts on how to go about it. It turned out that the one country I was most unsure and nervous about travelling to solo and independently was in fact the easiest to explore on my own. Israel is an independent traveller’s dream come true.

Don’t believe me?

Come along with me as I blog about Israel over the next few months, the land of Yhwh’s “Chosen Ones,” in a series which traverses three Abrahamic religions and countless natural sites of mind-boggling beauty over a 15-day voyage—at the epicentre of which is the “Wall.” Continue reading