Budapest – The Journey (3)

After all the walking around in Pest and then in Buda and getting some context and orientation, I wanted to go back to all the places to see them in more detail and to some others which I hadn’t even had a glimpse of. Also, I wanted to eat something. So decided to go back to the Pest side. One of the tips given by the guide was to take the Tram no. 2 – which runs between the stops Közvágóhíd and Jászai Mari tér along the river Danube. After some confusion with choosing between two trams (at that time, I didn’t know that Jászai Mari tér was the final stop of the oncoming one and though there were two lines, the trams on both sides would be going in the same direction after some minutes and so I missed the one that was starting earlier), I was on my way. Got down at the Szalay Utca stop which was close to the Parliament. Walked around a bit soaking in some sun and taking beautiful pics of the parliament and also some other beautiful buildings in the center of Kossuth Square.

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Tram no. 2 passing in front of Museum of Ethnography

Then instead of boarding the tram again, I walked around a bit and found the memorial for the holocaust victims along the river side. It was really heart breaking to see those metal shoes placed along the river bank with some people having left flowers in those shoes. It is in memory of the Jewish people of Budapest who were made to stand on the river bank after having made them take off their shoes and then shot into the river.

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It was a really bright sunny day but the breeze was quite cold and I had to keep my woolen cap on. I boarded the tram again, only to get down at the next stop. I walked around and reached the statue of Charlie, the policeman.

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Tradition is to rub the belly of Charlie – that would explain the bright shiny belly – to guarantee a good meal in Budapest :-). Might have worked because some time later, while I was searching for food, I reached a lovely restaurant that offered awesome pad-thai!

But before that lovely meal, I also went inside the imposing St. Stephan’s Basilica. It’s interesting to know that the church was actually not too old. It was completed in 1905, after 54 long years of construction and is named after the first king of Hungary. There was a collapse of the dome in 1868, which might explain the delay! It is 96 meters high and the second building of the same height is the Parliament. No building in Budapest can be made taller than 96 meters as per the current regulations.

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St. Stephan’s Basilica

I was quite impressed with the decoration inside – it was very elaborate and golden color was quite dominant. The architecture style is Neo-Classical.

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Inside the St. Stephen’s Basilica

After coming out, it was around quarter to five and I was starving! So I searched and searched and couldn’t find anything that I could eat. And then, I found this superb mix and match place called Padthai Wokbar – which lets you select your noodles, sauce, toppings and so on, so you get exactly what you would like to have! And I thanked Charlie.

Satiated, I decided to complete the rest of the journey of the tram no. 2. Reached the end where there was a theater and some other things but nothing too spectacular except one glass building which is called Bálna, meaning “whale”. It has some shops, cafés and restaurants and also gallery for contemporary art.

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Started back, then got down near the Liberty Bridge and walked a bit to find myself in front of the Great Market Hall, which is the largest and oldest indoor market in Budapest. It was evening and the market had already closed. So I had to be content with just taking the photos from outside.

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Walked a bit further and found some souvenir shops and decided to buy something for the fridge door. The old lady at the shop was very friendly and helped me choose the magnets, one of which which doubled as wine bottle cork and another doubled as a bottle opener – that’s called value for money :). Decoration and Function in one!

Walked further and google maps told me that there should be a Great Synagogue somewhere nearby. I went there and it was supposed to be open till 8 PM that day but I missed that by some minutes. Anyway, it was a beautiful building from the mid 19th century, with Oriental architecture (see the Moorish style domes on top of the towers) and it was nice to see it in the remnants of the evening light. It was damaged during the world war but now it is back in good shape, thanks to renovation work done from 1991 to 1998.

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Dohany Street Great Synagogue

I found a cute little cafe on the street and sat down to check-off from the list the activity of having a glass of Hungarian wine anywhere in Budapest as suggested by the walking tour guide. It was a really quite nice.

By then, the Pad Thai had become a distant memory. So I went in search of something else, found a very cool falafel (and more) place after wandering around a bit which had very interesting options. That was my dinner and after that I decided to head back and get some sleep on the last night of my stay in Budapest. Of course, I hadn’t had enough pictures of the beautiful Chain Bridge and the Parliament, so that was done on the way again. Then finally I reached the apartments and called it a day. It was a day well spent!

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What’s in a Soup?

I am a big fan of soups. They have come to my rescue so many times when I have been in doubt about appetisers. Sometimes they have even substituted the main course itself.

Here are some great vegetarian soups that sustained me on my journeys.

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My First interaction with the Japanese Miso soup (Berlin)

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A hearty middle eastern lentils soup with some spice mix on top (Barcelona)

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Another intro to the Japanese Miso soup with some additional ingredients (Milan)

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South Indian Spicy Rasam that opened my sinuses! (Bratislava)

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Hearty Vietnamese Pho Soup (Milan)

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Lovely German Kurbis (pumpkin) Soup (Christmas Market in Baden-Baden)

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A giant bowl of Thai Tom Kha Soup (Budapest)

And after writing about all this, now I am getting the craving to get myself some soup. Let me go make some and start my weekend :-).

Submitting in response to the daily post’s photo challenge.

Budapest – The Journey (2)

After braving the cold winds, seeing some historical stuff, enjoying a marionette show and a street program with lovely music on day 1, I was curious to learn more about this beautiful city. So I went to the location where the walking tour was supposed to start.

But I also needed some cash first and found that the exchange shop that I’d found the previous day was closed. I needn’t have worried because there were many others close to the Lion Fountain. Found one which offered a good rate and proceeded with the tour.

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It was a bit difficult to locate the fountain due to the street market that was getting set up in the morning hours. I don’t know if it was a regular one or special because of Easter.

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There at the Lion Fountain I saw a huge crowd – of course the people interested in the tour. There were so many that the tour guides had to divide it into four or five groups with one guide assigned to each. I got into the group with a nice guide named Barbara with the nickname Barbie (and she indeed looked like a doll :-)).

The tour started with a brief history of Hungary. It is about 1000 years old. It is widely accepted that the people were non-Europeans – most probably from Asia. In 896 AD, 7 tribes decided to make one nation under Prince Arpad. In around 1000 AD, the king Stephen converted to Christianity and was canonized (granted the title of Saint) posthumously. There were 2 mongol invasions – one in 1241 and another in 1541. The second one established the rule of the Ottoman Empire for 150 years over central part of Hungary. The Habsburgs (Austria) who ruled the Western part of Hungary, finally liberated central Hungary from the Turks in 1686 AD. The Hungarians were not really happy under the Habsburgs and there were 12 uprisings, each of which was squashed. In 1867 there was a compromise between Austria and Hungary, with double centred monarchy – in Vienna and in Pest-Buda. In 1873, Pest, Buda and Obuda were unified and thus came into being the metropolis – Budapest. After the WWI, 77% of the territory was lost to 7 countries! The nationalist sentiment grew and Hitler took advantage of that in WWII by giving back 40% of the territory to make Hungary its ally. However, in 1944, they occupied Hungary to prevent them from switching sides. In that period of war, 450K people were sent to Auschwitz and 150K were killed. Around 700K people were killed in a period of 7 months. Finally the Soviet Red Army arrived and liberated Hungary in 1945 and then occupied it. In 1956, there was an uprising against Stanilism but it failed. Finally in 1988, the transition began. In 1990, the Soviet army left Hungary and the democratic system began.

After the tour was over, I went to see this memorial for the Jewish people who were shot dead into the Danube during the German occupation. The victims were made to take off their shoes and other belongings before being shot. The memories from my trip to Krakow came back on seeing this.

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Memorial for the Jews on the banks of the Danube

Walking and talking, we reached the Elisabeth (Sisi) Square, which is the main square of Pest. Sisi was the Empress of the Austro-Hungarian empire by her marriage to Emperor Franz Joseph I. She spent more time in Budapest than in Vienna.

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Giant Wheel at the Elisabeth Square

But the more interesting thing here is the Michael Jackson tree!

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Michael Jackson Tree

This tree is opposite to the hotel where Michael Jackson once stayed and the fans have made this tree a kind of shrine after his demise.

We also got to know about two national drinks of Hungary which contain 40-70% alcohol by volume! They are Unicum and Palinka. The first one is made of 40 herbs and the second one is made with fruits. I didn’t get a chance to taste them but then, there is always the possibility of a next time! Another tidbit we got to know was that the name Buda comes from the Slavic word for water and Pest comes from the slavic word for Oven.

We reached the Basilica of St. Stephen. Interesting thing is that it is not that old! It’s only about a 100 years old. It is quite impressive and is 96 m high (same as the Parliament). It was completed in 1905 after 54 years of construction. The delay is because first of all the original architect died, and then later, the dome collapsed in 1868, which led to the complete demolition and reconstruction from scratch.

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St. Stephen’s Basilica

 

It is very impressive from inside as well. I went to see it later after the tour.

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Inside the basilica

An important photo-op was with Charlie – the policeman. The legend is that if you rub his belly, you are guaranteed a very good meal in Budapest :-).

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Charlie

Barbara also informed us that there was a major flood (5 m high) in the Danube in 1838, destroying almost all the buildings in the St. Stephen’s square. So the reconstructed buildings are of course not very old.

Then we walked towards the Chain Bridge and cross it to reach the Buda side of Budapest. On the way, we also learnt that the Hungarian language does not bear similarity to Slavic or Latin or any Indo-European languages. It is closer to Finnish but still different. The Hungarian word for Hungarian is Magyar.

The Chain Bridge or the Szechenyi Bridge was the first permanent bridge between Buda and Pest, opened in 1849. The story goes that Szechenyi who was an influential politician in the 1800s, personally paid for the construction when he faced a personal tragedy. His dad died on the Buda side and there was no bridge to easily go from one side to the other!

It was so windy crossing the bridge that it was very difficult to walk and to have a conversation!

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The view of the Buda Castle from the Chain Bridge

We then stopped for a break at the end of the bridge – at the Clark Adam square – named after the Scottish engineer who built the bridge (Adam Clark). There is a funicular that can be taken to go up from there, or a bus (like I did the previous day). But it was not so difficult to climb either, which is what we did! On the way we saw an old musician and Barbara told me that he plays the same tune everyday, to which I said “but, to several new people each day” :-). Now, the Royal Palace has been there since 1200s but it was let to fall into ruins in the 17th century by the Ottomans. Then the Habsburgs reconstructed it which is the Baroque structure we see today. It was destroyed in WWII but reconstructed in 1976. Barbara drew our attention to the plastic sheets covering the windows in the communist times – functionality over beauty.

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Windows with plastic overlooking the fountain

Then we walked towards the Matthias Church and the Fishermen’s Bastion before ending the tour. Passing by the President’s house, we also heard a bit about the current Hungarian politics which didn’t sound good. At the end, we received lot of good advice from our guide on how to explore the city for the rest of our visit, tipped her for the lovely tour she gave us and went in pursuit of our interests.

Phew! I finally managed to complete this post. Will be back soon with the final post.

Budapest – The Journey (1)

This year for the long weekend at Easter, I decided that I should stop postponing and go to Budapest – a city I had been wanting to visit since 2014, when a fellow tourist in Berlin, recommended me to go there when I told her that I love Prague. Last year on Easter, I was actually closeby (Vienna and Bratislava) but then felt that I won’t be able to do full justice to any of the cities I was visiting if I try to squeeze everything in the short time that I had. And am I glad that I didn’t do that – Budapest is so big and charming that you can easily spend 4 days and in that time, you would be so caught up in its spell that you’d start feeling like staying just a little bit more and then a  bit more…..

I reached there on a pouring evening (the airport was a bit strange – might be under construction, I don’t know) and after taking a bus and then two metros, I reached where I was supposed to reach. And from behind the curtain of raindrops, I had my first glimpse of the Parliament across the river – all lit up and beautiful. I was going to see it everyday for the next few days as it was bang opposite the metro stop near my accommodation.

Anyway, I reached the apartment and struggled a bit with the doors but then found myself in a very nice room, had something to eat that I had brought with me and retired for the night.

The next morning looked a bit drizzly and windy and I was getting disappointed with the weather. So I decided not to take the walking tour – which I usually like to take as the first thing in any new city (tourist city) to get myself oriented. Went ahead then to  explore the city a bit on my own and may be go to a museum. I found a good public transport connection towards the castle, which was very much appreciated with the weather. It took me till the top and then I walked around and had some nice views over the different parts of the city.

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The Parliament (left) and the Chain Bridge over river Danube

After walking around for a few minutes, I started feeling very cold. So I wondered which museum to get into. Looked on some website and decided to go to the Budapest History Museum. It was nice to get some warmth once I was inside. But soon realized that it probably wasn’t the best choice for a museum that I could have made. It wasn’t bad but then not so informative that it should be on a “must do” list. May be the National Gallery would have been better with the art collections there. What I liked in the History museum though was – getting to go into the cellars of old times and to listen to some interesting music in the headsets provided, composed by the musicians patronized by the king/queens of Budapest.

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Stairs to the cellar

So even though it wasn’t as interesting as I wanted it to be, the warmth inside kept me long enough to see all the exhibits.

Then finally I braced myself to come out into the cold windy castle hill. Saw a beautiful church (Matthias Church) which was originally built in 1015, then destroyed by Mongols in 1241 and then reconstructed later in the same century.

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Matthias Church (and a helicopter!)

There was a also a beautiful lookout bastion near the church. It is called Fishermen’s Bastion and the story goes that it is because the Buda side castle wall was protected by the Fishermen’s guild in the middle ages. The bastion is relatively new having been built in the 19th century. There are 7 towers in that stretch looking over the different parts of the city. The towers themselves are so pretty and of course, the views over the city are nice!

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Fishermen’s Bastion

Then I decided to come down and go towards the Castle Market – I was told that there was some Easter special going on there. And I am glad I did that (even though I was cold and tired). I saw a very entertaining marionnet show, a lovely street concert (with a brief dance performance by the percussionist), traditional egg decoration workshop (open for everyone – but I was lazy) and many beautiful stalls selling knick-knacks and food items. It was Budapest Spring Festival (not just Easter) as per the boards that I could see around.

I was getting hungry and my place of residence was not too far away with the tram, I decided to go in that direction as I’d seen a vegan place closeby on google maps. Found that place and luckily it was open! Had some food and rested my feet. Then went back and decided to find my way to the Gellert Hill as I had read that the views are very nice from there. It was a long hike even after I had taken the buses as suggested by google. But I didn’t give up. And was rewarded with a nice view with the setting sun.

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View from the Gellert Hill towards Chain Bridge and Margaret Bridge

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Statues on the Gellert Hill

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Liberty Bridge as seen from Gellert Hill

Then I decided to climb down the hill following others and found myself in front of the Gellert Hotel which is an old hotel having thermal baths! I went inside and looked around a bit before going towards the Pest side via the Liberty bridge. Bought something to eat on the way and decided to call it a day. Went back to the apartment, had dinner and went to sleep, with the hope of having a better weather on the next day!

Contd..

Budapest in pictures

As I was getting down from the ferry relatively early on a Tuesday morning, hurriedly -for I had so little time left in the city, I  found this tree that looked like it was just waking up and stretching its arms after the night’s slumber. And that made me stop and take a look around me – to just soak in as much as possible the beauty of this enchanting city for the last time in this trip.

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The tree waking up and stretching

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Liberty Bridge in foreground and White Bridge behind

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Castle on the Hill

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The Parliament in the early morning

The story of the journey is coming next. Keep an eye on the blog to know more about this magnificent city and my experiences there.

Meanwhile, for some pictures on the interpretations of  “awakening”, you can look here.

Rameswaram – The Journey

The East Tower Entrance of the Ramnathswamy Temple

Rameswaram (joining of two words in Sanskrit – Ramah and Ishwaram – meaning the God of Rama), is a temple town at the Southernmost tip of Indian Peninsula on the Pamban Island. It’s significance is from the Hindu epic Ramayana (Story of Rama) – Rama had launched his army to Lanka from here to rescue his wife Sita who was abducted by Ravana, the king of Lanka. Why the name Rameswaram? Rama installed a Shivalinga here and worshipped Lord Shiva here. There are two stories about whether it was before the war to get Shiva’s blessings or after the war to get rid of the “paap” of killing Ravana who was the son of a Brahmin (killing a Brahmin is considered a big sin in Hinduism). I won’t be able to explain the complicated philosophies of “paap”, “punya”, “mukti” etc here. Whatever the story, today it is one of the four holy places that the devout Hindus want to visit in their lifetimes. The other three are – Badrinath in the North, Jagannathpuri in the East and Dwarika in the West. Interestingly, all four are associated with Lord Vishnu or his incarnations – Rama and Krishna. In the other three, the main deity of worship is Vishnu while at Rameswaram, the main deity is Shiva. The temple is therefore, accordingly called “Ramanathswamy” temple – the temple of the Lord of Lord Rama!

It is a very big temple compound today and hosts millions of pilgrims from all over India every year. The carvings are so beautiful and must have taken a long time to build. I wasn’t sure if photography was allowed inside or not – it is usually not allowed inside temples – so I refrained from it. Expand the pics to see the details on the entrances.

The people of all ages can be seen here – some chanting loudly the name of Shiva, some silently, some trying to find their way, some following the crowd, some admiring the architecture, some just trying to understand what’s going on. One of the interesting things for me was to see the brisk business that priests did to perform some special poojas for the pilgrims, which is a common site at all the big temples – irrespective of location. Please do not think of this as a judgmental statement if it appears to be that. It’s just another way of earning a living.

Another thing here which caught my attention was that the floor of the whole temple was wet. I got to know the reason later – when I visited it the second time in the morning – there are 22 places (kund / teertham) where the devout take a bath. The first teertham – Agneeteertham – is at the sea outside and the rest of them are either wells or ponds inside the temple.

In the sea, you can take a dip yourself and then walk to the temple. A man or two at each pond/well then pull out water in a bucket from those teerthams and drench the already soaked devotees. A purification ritual I believe, before meeting the God. So that explained the wet floors – dripping devotees walking from one teertham to the next.

The idols of the deities in the temple are beautiful – mostly of black stone which is what is used in the South in contrast to white stone, usually marble, used in the North. The whole ceiling is also adorned with beautiful colorful floral paintings – somehow reminded me of mandalas. There were also some areas with statues which were colorful but those looked a bit in disrepair.

Once done with the darshan and special pooja (Rudrabhishekam), we checked out from the hotel and went ahead to look at some other beautiful sites of Rameswaram. First stop was the Ramarpatham temple. There were stories from a part of Ramayana hanging around the temple. The location is believed to have the footprints of Rama. We had some refreshing tender coconut there which felt great in the summer heat (well technically it was not summer yet but the Sun didn’t care about those technicalities). There was a Shivalinga at the sea there and the devotees were paying their obeisances there.

The pilgrims

Shivalinga near Ramarpatham Temple

We then proceeded towards Dhanushkodi – which used to be a village but got destroyed in a Tsunami in 1964. At the end of the village, is the end of Indian border. The fantastic thing is to see the mixing of oceans there (of course, it’s difficult to make out the difference but the notion of it being the place where Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal would be mixing up makes it special for you :-)).

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Can you make out the colors of two oceans?

Then since it was getting hotter every minute, we decided to return. It would be a three and a half hour journey to Madurai in that heat when even the air-conditioner of the car would not have any effect.

On the way back, we also saw a temple of Hanuman – the Panchmukhi Hanuman Temple where apart from a huge statue of Hanuman with five faces, there were a few stones considered to be part of the Ramasetu – the bridge constructed by Rama’s army on the sea to reach Lanka. The stones were porous and could therefore explain why they floated instead of sinking in the sea when the bridge was to be constructed. (Satellite images today do show a stone structure like a bridge sunk now under water, connecting India with Srilanka from Dhanushkodi).

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A part of the Pamban Rail Bridge connecting the mainland to the Pamban Island where Rameswaram is located

Then we kept driving back until we reached the comfort of our hotel in Madurai, briefly stopping for lunch in between. We were exhausted but felt good after having seen what we had come this far to see.

How and when to go to Rameswaram:

There are flight connections via Bangalore/Chennai to a temple town called Madurai. From there, one can go either by road or by train. There are three trains that ply between Rameswaram and Madurai. There are also buses that can be taken from Madurai. We took a taxi. The road is good. Best time would be to go in winter. It was already very hot in the beginning of March when we were there.

Where to stay:

There are lots of hotels of all price ranges and several lodges around the temple. Some of the hotels can be booked online but you can also find accommodation directly when you arrive there. Of course, online booking makes things easier. We took the TTDC (Tamil Nadu tourism department) hotel which was booked in advance via their website. It is not a luxury hotel but is very good and conveniently located. The food (all vegetarian) was quite good too.

The Eyes

As I was leisurely walking through the streets of the Castle region in Budapest, I became suddenly aware of a pair of eyes looking at me. I had seen similar eyes in the Saxony area a few months ago in Germany and was surprised to see them so far away in Budapest! See for yourself and smile – the eyes are watching you!

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The House with two eyes – Budapest

 

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The house with 3 eyes – Saxony

To see some more pictures to bring smiles to your faces, you can look here.

The artist in the skies

One evening when I was working in the kitchen, I saw a glimpse from my window of something enchanting in the skies. I immediately came out with the phone in hand and followed the skies till I reached near some fields. And there it was – one of the most magnificent sunsets I have seen and I didn’t even have to travel anywhere fancy for a vacation to see it..it was just there on an ordinary day making it special.

For more such pics of sunrises and sunsets, you can visit here.