Trip to Guruvayur, Thrissur and Athirapilly Falls, Kerala

1) Guruvayur:

Time of visit: November 2011

Mode of travel: Car from Calicut (around 120 kms)

Places visited:

Visited the following temples:

Stay:

We stayed at Kanoos Residency, which is about 5 min from the main temple by walk . I think this has got to be one of the best hotels in Guruvayur at its price point.

Clear positives were:

  • Clean, large rooms and bathrooms
  • Helpful staff (reservation, reception, service etc)
Things that could have been better:
  • Food at their restaurant
  • Service at their restaurant
  • Rooms are not sound proof. Any conversations or movements in the corridor outside were audible
  • More amenities in the room would have been desirable (ex. electric kettle)

Food:

Found it difficult to get really good food, though there is no dearth of restaurants.

2) Thrissur:

Time of visit: November 2011

Mode of travel: Car

Places visited:

Visited the famous Vadakkumnathan Temple. It is a very beautiful, huge Shiva temple, located in the center of Thrissur. More details about the temple can be found at http://www.vadakkumnathantemple.com/


3) Athirapilly:

Time of visit: November 2011

Mode of travel: Car

Places visited:

Athirapilly Falls – Located about 60 kms from Thrissur, these falls are a sight to behold! No wonder, they are frequented by Indian movie makers. They are located in a forest area known for its bio-diversity. There were sign boards that said that a variety of species birds can be spotted in this area. The best time to visit these falls is during the monsoon (June to September), when the flow is at its peak.

A few things to note:

  • While driving towards the falls, there will be a checkpost like structure with signboards indicating a place to purchase the entry tickets to the falls. It is easy to miss this while driving. This place is I think about 0.5 km or so before the actual entry point to the falls. If you miss buying the tickets here, you will have to come back and get them. So keep a watch for the ticket counters to your left when you near the falls
  • The path from the entry point leads you to the top of the falls. There is a separate route (stone path) to the bottom of the falls and I would highly recommend this short trek as it gives you a nice view of the entire falls up close
  • While I visited Athirapilly only for a few hours and didn’t stay in any hotels here, there is a resort called Rainforest that is located bang opposite to the falls. My friends had recommended this place highly. The rooms here, though priced on the higher side, are supposed to offer a full view of the falls
  • There are a few other falls nearby that can also be visited – Charpa and Vazhachal, if I remember correctly.


Trip to Wayanad, Kerala

Time of visit: November 2011

Mode of travel: Car from Calicut (around 80 kms to our place of stay)

Places to see:

Please refer to http://www.wayanad.net/places.html , http://www.mustseeindia.com/Wayanad/attractions or similar web sites.

Would highly recommend the Muthanga wildlife sanctuary and the jeep ride there. We spotted quite a bit of wildlife, including deer and elephants.

Stay:

We stayed at Olives Homestay managed by Mr. Biju Thomas and his wife Raji. They played perfect hosts and left no stone unturned in making sure we had a wonderful experience.

The advantage of this homestay is that it is located very close to Kalpetta, which is one of the big towns in Wayanad and yet offers some good scenic views.

Biju was a perfect gentleman in his dealings. He was always reachable on his cell phone for any query we had.

Raji cooked some of the most delicious Kerala food items I have ever tasted in my life! She went around her work with a passion that is very rare to see. She even managed to schedule the food timings in such a way that she would cater to vegetarian guests first and then start with the non-veg guests. Living in this place was like living with one’s own family. Such was the hospitality!

We stayed in the Olives Suite, the upper most room with a private sit-out from where you can have a good view of the surrounding landscape. The room wasn’t a suite in the usual sense of the word, but was neat and clean with basic amenities.

Food:

We preferred to eat mostly in the homestay itself as Raji served us such delicious food. There are a few restaurants in Kalpetta and also in Sulthan Bathery, but I am confident they can’t hold a candle to Raji’s cooking.

Transport:

Biju had arranged his car for our trips. The driver he had given us, Mr. Subramaniam (Subretta), was one of the best I have ever come across. The roads in Wayanad were in a horrible state because of heavy rains, but Subretta drove so skilfully, managing to avoid most potholes and yet making sure we didn’t get delayed in reaching any place.

Trip to Yercaud

*** Giving details of a recent trip to Yercaud below; may prove useful for people planning a trip to the place ***

Went to Yercaud, a hill station near Salem in Tamil Nadu, India, a few weeks back.

HOW TO REACH?

Modes of transport I used: 
Chennai to Salem: Train
Salem to Yercaud: Bus
Yercaud to Salem: Cab
Salem to Chennai: Train

If you are traveling by train, you can get down at Salem Junction. You can get buses (route no. 12/13) and autos right outside the railway station that will take you to the new bus stand which is about 10-15 min away. You can get buses to Yercaud from the new bus stand. When I went, the Yercaud bus was the last one parked at the right hand side end of the new bus stand.

The bus trip should cost about Rs. 11 per person while cabs are available for Rs. 450 – 500 per one way trip.

The road trip from Salem to Yercaud trip usually takes about 35 – 45 min. You can see 20 hairpin bends on the way and the view is good from a few points.

ACCOMODATION:
Planned the trip very late and hence didn’t get accomodation in the places I would have wanted to try out. Stayed at Star Holiday Inc’s resort (http://www.starholidaysyercaud.com/). Got a simple big room in the name of a deluxe cottage.

Plusses:

  • Lower cost compared to the places I was originally trying to book
  • Vegetarian food was good and there was a decent variety to choose from. The kitchen however looked awful

Minuses:

  • No wardrobe in the room
  • No dustbins
  • Huge communication gap between front office and the other facilities staff. The only staff who were responsive were the ones at the reception and this resulted in huge time delays to get even simple things done
  • No power backup (There were 3 power cuts during the 2 days I stayed there)

Choose Sterling Resort if you are a sucker for views and want to have a great view everytime you look out of your room as it is located very near Lady’s seat (see “Places to see” below). Not sure about the other facilities at the resort though.

Heard from friends that GRT Nature Trails and Lake Forest are among the best places to stay in Yercaud

FOOD:
Heard that vegetarian food at Hotel Shevaroys is good. Good veg food may be a bit difficult to get. Most hotels offer good choice of non-veg items.

SIGHT SEEING:
In case you are not using your own means of transport, you can hire an auto or a cab. The hotel front desk should be able to help you here. Else, you can go to the lake and there will be a lot of local cab operators willing to take you for the sightseeing trip. The charges were about Rs. 350 for auto and about Rs. 400 for a cab when I went.

You can finish the sight seeing trip in about 2.5 to 3 hours. You can also undertake a road trip of about 35 kms around the loop (ring) road that takes you past many villages and coffee estates, especially if you have come in your own vehicle. This is not covered in the regular sight seeing trip.

PLACES TO SEE:

1) Yercaud Lake: You can go for boating. Charges were about Rs. 70 for a two-seater and Rs. 95 for a four-seater pedal boat for 30 min when I went (The same amount has to be paid as caution deposit). Timings were 9AM to 5:30 PM.

2) Servarayan Temple: The temple is located at the highest point in Yercaud inside a small, dark cave. You can get a good view of the hills around from this place. 

3) Raja Rajeshwari Amman Temple: Located on the way from the Lake to Servarayan Temple, this is a small temple that also has a beautiful small idol of Lord Shiva at the centre of a very small pool of water.

4) Botanical Garden (Orchidarium)

5) Rose Garden (part of a Horticulture farm that also houses the Children’s seat)

6) Lady’s Seat: Offers a very good view of the hills, the plains and the ghat roads. A telescope is mounted here that can help get a better view (The telescope house was closed when I went).

7) Gent’s seat: Located some distance from the Lady’s seat. Another view point

8 ) Children’s seat: According to the guy who escorted me for the sight seeing trip, the British have the Lady’s seat it’s name and the local administration later named two other view points as Gent’s seat and Children’s seat so that men and children don’t have a cause to complain ;-) (Entrance fee: Rs. 10 for adults, Rs. 10 for still camera)

9) Kiliyur Falls: A steep trek leads to the falls. This trek is not recommended by the local people and is not at all advisable if you have children and old people in your group.

10) Pagoda point: I didn’t visit this place. It is supposed to be another view point

11) Anna Park: A small park with nothing much to see. Some plants were available for sale (Entrance fee: Rs. 10 for adults and Rs. 10 for still camera)

Yercaud is also home to educational institutions like the Montfort School and Sacred Heart Convent, which according to my tour escort, are very famous.

SHOPPING:
Many perfumaries sell perfumes, natural oils and pain relieving balms

  

WEATHER:

Weather was good when I went. The days were bright and sunny while evenings were cool and pleasant.

MISCELLANEOUS:

  • A petrol pump is available near the lake
  • Yercaud is usually crowded on weekends and public holidays

 

FINAL WORD:

Good place to relax and stretch yourself. Nothing much by way of sight seeing.

A trip to Padmanabhapuram, Suchindram & Kanyakumari – Part 2

Part 1 of this post can be found here

 

SUCHINDRAM THANUMAYALAN TEMPLE

We caught a local bus back to Thakkalai from the bus stop just outside the Padmanabhapuram palace. The bus service was not that frequent. Autorickshaws were also available. We boarded a Kanyakumari bound bus from the Thakkalai bus stand. An alternate option is to board buses that go to Nagercoil (as they operate at much higher frequency), get down at Nagercoil, take any bus going towards Kanyakumari and get down at Suchindram which is on the way and about 20 minutes from Nagercoil. Take the road to the right of the main road (just opposite to the Suchindram bus stop), cross a row of shops and you should be able to catch the beautiful sight of the temple gopuram and the temple pond. 

It is said that Indra was cursed by sage Gautama and performed penance here to get relieved of the curse. Suchindram thus refers to the place where Indra was purified (Suchi means purified and Indram refers to Indra). 

The temple has a very tall door with intricate carvings done all over it. The deity is Thanumalayan in the form of a lingam and is the representation of the trinity of Hinduism – Shiva (Sthanu), Vishnu (Maal) and Brahma (Ayan).  The bottom of the linga represents Brahma, the middle – Vishnu and the top –  Shiva. The tall idol of Anjaneya (Hanuman) here made from a single rock is very famous and is supposed to possess great powers. The navagrahas are engraved on the ceiling near the entrance of the temple. The Alangara Mandapam is supposed to have musical pillars. 

Devotees/visitors are not allowed to carry anything inside except wallets. Belongings can be deposited just outside the main door of the temple for safekeeping. Men are not allowed to wear anything on the upper part of the body. 

The only bad experience we had at the temple was with the temple authorities trying to fleece people for anything and everything. They spoke Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada and Telugu with ease and the only intention of doing that seemed to be to ask people to buy one thing or the other at almost every shrine. They went to the extent of blocking our way and demanding that we individually buy what was on offer before they would let us proceed.  This left a very bad taste.

 

 

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KANYAKUMARI

We walked back to the Suchindram bus stop and boarded one of the very frequent buses to Kanyakumari.  A short walk from the place where we got down took us to the tip of the Indian mainland. Boat rides were available from this place to the Vivekananda rock memorial and Tiruvalluvar statue till 4 PM. 

The main tourist attractions in Kanyakumari are:

1. The sunrise/sunset: A lot of people flock to the beach to view the sunrise/sunset. 

2. The confluence: The Bay of Bengal, Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean are supposed to meet at this place, though no one seemed to know where exactly this place was demarcated. Almost every protrusion into the seas seemed to be the tip and the place where the seas mixed. 

3. Vivekananda Rock Memorial: Swami Vivekananda is supposed to have meditated here when he visited Kanyakumari. You have to take a boat to reach this place.

4. Tiruvalluvar Statue: The statue is very tall and impressive and is located off the mainland. You have to take a boat to reach the statue. 

5. Mahatma Gandhi memorial (constructed in memory of the Father of the Nation)

6. Kumari Amman Temple 

7. St. Xavier’s church 

Vivekananda rock memorial and Thiruvalluvar Statue

Vivekananda rock memorial & Thiruvalluvar statue

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Vivekananda Rock Memorial

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St. Xavier’s Church

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Sunset

 

PLANNING THE TRIP

If you are planning to cover Padmanabhapuram Palace, Suchindram Temple and Kanyakumari in one day, the ideal time to start from Trivandrum’s Thampanur bus stand would be at or before 7.30AM. You will reach the palace by 9:30/10AM (the palace opens at 9AM) and will need an hour there at the minimum. The Suchindram temple I think closes at 12:30PM or 1PM and reopens at 4PM. You should leave the palace ideally by 11/11:30 AM. 

You must reach Kanyakumari before 4PM if you intend to visit the Vivekananda memorial and Tiruvalluvar statue as the boat rides to these tourist attractions stop at 4PM.  To catch a bus back to Trivandrum, you will have to either go to the main bus depot which is about 1.5-2 kms away from the beach or go to the nearby Police check post. Locals there will guide you. There was a superfast KSRTC bus back to Trivandrum at about 6:45 or 7PM when we went, which meant that we could see the sunset and be in time to catch the bus back. The best thing to do if you miss a direct bus to Trivandrum would be to catch one to Nagercoil and then catch any one of the buses to Trivandrum from there. 

You shouldn’t have a problem communicating to anybody right from Trivandrum till Kanyakumari if you can speak Tamil. Malayalam is also understood in many areas. Not many people seemed to understand/speak Hindi or English.

A trip to Padmanabhapuram, Suchindram & Kanyakumari – Part 1

 

PADMANABHAPURAM PALACE

Padmanabhapuram was once the capital of the princely state of Travancore, a state that later merged with Cochin and Malabar district to form the present state of Kerala. The Padmanabhapuram palace is a beautiful wooden palace located in this place, constructed by the rulers of Travancore around 1600 AD.

 

How to reach?

The palace is located very close to a place called Thuckalay (Thakkalai), about 60 kms from Trivandrum. I and a friend of mine traveled to the palace from Trivandrum. We boarded a KSRTC bus to Nagercoil at Thampanoor bus stand, very close to Trivandrum Central railway station. I think the bus traveled on NH 47 for most part of the journey. The prominent towns/villages on the way were Neyyatinkara, Parasala (Kerala till here), Kaliyakkavilai (Tamil Nadu starts from here) and Marthandam. We got down at Thuckalay bus stand and took another local bus from there to Padmanabhapuram. The people at the bus stand should be able to help you board the right bus to the palace (ex. route nos. 13D and 13F). The distance from the bus stand to the palace must have been at least 3 kms.

 

Entry tickets

Entry tickets were priced at Rs. 25 each for adults. Still cameras were allowed inside when we went and an additional Rs. 25 per camera was charged.  Video cameras were also allowed and the charge was considerably higher (I think Rs. 1500).

Footwear was to be left outside the palace (there was a separate room for that) and one could only go in barefoot. 

 

The Palace

The word palace usually brings to mind images of a structure like the Mysore Palace. You might be disappointed at first, if you have an image like that in your mind when you go to visit this palace. But it won’t be long before you get absorbed in the details and start feeling royalty in a different sense. For instance, the woodwork on the ceilings and walls is just fabulous! The palace comprises many structures and the prominent ones are described below. 

 

Entrance to the palace

Entrance to the palace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Poomukham

This is the portico. The king entertained special guests here. The entrance is shaped like a triangle. The ceiling is made of wood and has 90 flowers carved in it, each of them having a pattern different from the other. A brass lamp with a knight on horse-back hanging from the ceiling, a cot used by the king, a Chinese chair presented to the king by Chinese merchants and ‘onavillus’ (paintings in Kerala style presented to the king during the Onam festival by chiefs of different clans) can be found here.

 

Entrance - Poomukham

Entrance - Poomukham

 

Knight Rider Brass Lamp

Brass lamp with knight on horse back

 

 

 

 

Chinese chair and cot

Chinese chair and cot

 

 

Floral patterns on the cieling

Floral patterns on the ceiling

 

 

 

Manthrasala

This is the hall where the king held discussions with his ministers and took important decisions. It has 11 ‘kilivathil’s – tiny windows, the shutters of which are beautifully decorated with mirror work in different hues.

 

Manthrasala

Manthrasala

 

 

 

Oottupura (Dining Hall)

This is the grand dining hall with a seating capacity of about 2000. This is where people were served free meals every day. The structure is two-storeyed with each capable of accommodating 1000 people. On display in the hall on the ground floor are big Chinese jars that were used to store pickles.

 

 

Oottupura - Dining Hall

Oottupura - Dining Hall

 

 

Chinese pickle jars

Chinese pickle jars

 

 

Storage for water in the dining hall (or was it for rasam?)

Storage for water in the dining hall (or was it for rasam?)

 

 

 

 

Thai Kottaram (Darbhakkulagara Kottaram)

This is the oldest structure in the palace complex and was built during the reign of Ravi Varma Kulasekhara Perumal (AD 1592 to 1610) in the traditional Nalukettu style.  After entry, we reach an open verandah called “Ekantamandapam” which contains the “Kannithoonu” – a one-piece, exquisitely carved pillar made with wood from jackfruit tree.

There is a tunnel that connects the Thaikottaram to another structure about a kilometer away and was used as an escape route in times of danger to the royal family.

 

 

Kannithoonu

Kannithoonu

 

 

Kannithoonu

Kannithoonu

 

 

 

 

Woodwork in the cieling

Woodwork in the cieling

 

 

Uppirikka Malika

This is the biggest building in the palace complex and is four storeyed. Its name literally means a multi-storeyed building. Built by King Marthandavarma in AD 1744, it was dedicated to Lord Sree Padmanabha. The ground floor houses the royal treasury and the first floor has the royal bedroom. The bedroom has a medicinal cot made from 67 (?) medicinal plants that is believed to have been given as a present to the king by the Dutch – East India Company. Entry to second and third floors was prohibited when I went. The second floor is supposed to have the king’s rest room and the third floor is supposed to house many mural paintings.

 

 

Medicinal Cot

Medicinal Cot

 

 

 

 

Medicinal Cot

Medicinal Cot

 

 

Armory and Watch Tower

The room used as armory has no windows or ventilation facilities and has two entrances. The northern end of the complex houses the watch tower from where any movement in the nearby surroundings can be detected.

 

 

Watch Tower

Watch Tower

 

 

 

Ambari Mukhappu

This is a balcony that was used by the kings to view chariot races during festivals and to hear people’s complaints on designated days. Ambari refers to the seat put on an elephant’s back and the building that houses this balcony has been constructed in the shape of an ambari.

 

 

Ambari Mukhapu

Ambari Mukhappu

 

 

Indra Vilasom

Foreign tourists and visiting dignitaries were given accommodation in this building whose structure shows the influence of foreign styles of architecture.

 

Navarathri  Mandapam

This was built in the year 1744 AD by King Marthandavarma and is 66ft X 27 ft. Cultural programs were conducted here during the navaratri festival. The dance floor here is known as ‘kannadithara’ or mirror floor as it has been polished to mirror like perfection. This is the building in the entire palace complex that has been made of stone.

Navarathri Mandapam - 1

Navarathri Mandapam - 2

Devi Temple

Navarathri Mandapam

Navarathri Mandapam

 

 

Archaeological Museum

The palace also houses an archaeological museum that has stone and bronze sculptures, paintings, coins, weapons and armory. 

 

 

Archaeology Museum
Archaeology Museum
Sample wood work

Sample wood work

 

 

 

Carvings done on a wooden beam

Carvings done on a wooden beam

 

 

 

Sample paintings

Sample paintings

 

 

 

 

 

Part 2 of this post can be found here

A Trip to Vadivudaiamman Temple, Tiruvotriyur

Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar, the great composer, had traveled to many temples and composed songs on the deities there. Vadivudaiamman Temple (also known as Sri Thyagaraja Swami Temple) in Tiruvotriyur, at the outskirts of Chennai, in one of them. Dikshitar composed the song “AdipurIshvaram sadA bhajEham” in the rAgam Arabhi at this temple. Needless to say, I was very thrilled when I got an opportunity to visit this temple today morning. The trip was made all the more special by the Veenavadini group (led by vainikAs Sri Jeyaraaj Krishnan and Smt. Jayasri Jeyaraaj) rendering select compositions of Dikshitar, including “AdipurIshvaram sadA bhajEham” in front of the sannadhi of AdipurIswarar. I must thank the vainika couple for their hospitality and for the great time we all had there. 

 

Details of the temple and directions are available here [link]

 

Lyrics of Dikshitar’s song in Arabhi are as follows:

AdipurIshvaram sadA bhajEham – Arabhi – Adi – muthusvAmi dIkSitar


pallavi

AdipurIshvaram sadA bhajEham tripura sundarI samEta vara guruguha janakam vandita muni samUham

caraNam

vidhi hari pUjita tyAga rAjAngam Aditya kOTi prakAsha lingam

nandi pUjita svayambU lingam nAgakavacadharasaikatalingam

 

The mUlavar is a svayambhu lingam (one of the forms of Lord Shiva in the temple). This lingam is covered by a “nAga kavacam” that is removed only during full moon day in the month of Karthigai. The kavacam covered svayambhu lingam is described in the caraNam of Dikshitar’s kriti

Trip to Tiruvannamalai

Went on a weekend trip to Tiruvannamalai which is located about 185 kms from Chennai. The route we took was Chennai – Tambaram – Melmaruvathur – Tindivanam – Senji (Gingee) – Tiruvannamalai.  While traveling on the highway from Chennai to Tindivanam, one has to take a right turn about 4 km before reaching Tindivanam and proceed towards Senji. There are a lot of sign boards and it is difficult to get lost if one is following them properly. We reached Tiruvannamalai in about 3.5 hours (including the time for breakfast). 

Places visited:

1. Arunachaleswarar Temple:

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Tiruvannamalai Temple (Photo courtesy http://tiruvannamalai.nic.in/)

 

 

It is considered to be one of the most important Shaivite shrines and is located in a huge campus with the Annamalai hill in the backdrop. The temple is beautifully constructed with 9 gopurams. There are 4 gopurams on the external walls, one in each direction. The main Rajagopuram faces the east.  

Many greats have worshipped in this temple. Sri Ramana Maharishi did penance in a cave in this temple that houses the pAtALa lingam. Manickavasagar and Arunagirinathar worshipped here. Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar sang “aruNAcalanAtham” in sArangA on the Lord of this temple. rA refers to agni and there is a lot of usage of “rA” throughout this song as this kshetram is linked to agni, one of the five elements (The raga itself is sArangA which has rA in it)

2. Ramanashramam:

 

 

This is the ashram where Ramana Maharishi lived and is located a couple of kms to the south of the temple. The Maharishi left his home when he was 16 and had a unique experience then. The fear of death took over him and he started dramatizing what would happen if he died. Upon doing that he realized that he is actually the soul within the body and not the body itself. He left home, went to the Tiruvannamalai temple and started doing penance there. 

The ashram is a very calm place sought by people from around the world. I could spot many peacocks here which added to the place’s beauty. Free food is given everyday to people who visit the ashram. We stayed in the ashram’s guest house located across the road from the ashram. We were not charged for our stay and it was left to us to donate whatever we wanted to. The ashram has a library where one can read about Ramana Maharishi and his thoughts. 

3. Seshadri Swamigal Ashramam:

 

This is the ashram of another great ascetic – Sri Seshadri Swamigal. He was the one who identified Ramana Maharishi doing penance inside a cave in the Tiruvannamalai temple, brought him out and spoke about his greatness. This ashram is also a calm place very similar to Ramanashramam and is located near it (about 2 kms to the south of the Tiruvannamalai temple). One can book rooms and stay here. 

 

4. Girivalam:

 

 

 

Girivalam refers to circumambulation of the Annamalai hill. One is supposed to do this barefoot. People normally start doing this from the Rajagopuram of the Tiruvannamalai temple, travel clockwise around the hill and complete it by coming back to the Rajagopuram. However some locals opined that one can start from any place around the hill and should complete girivalam by coming back to the starting point. The total distance is about 14 km and is supposed to be covered barefoot. The roads were nice for most part of the trip, except for the portions within the city where there was a lot of traffic and had a lot of pebbles. We started at about 5.30 AM in the morning and covered this in about 3 hours. 

There is a huge crowd during pournami days and the roads will be full of people. Since we didn’t do girivalam on a pournami day, we found the roads a bit deserted and were advised not to begin it before 5AM in the morning.