Jaipur – BucketList for Next Visit

Third day at Jaipur and now I will be pushing off to another nearby destination. It has been an interesting 3 days and this city has lots to be explored! I have poignantly realized that my travel style is slow, relaxed and I just like taking my time with things… I spent a few hours each at the Jantar Mantar & Hawa Mahal. Even the Albert Hall I just sat around absorbing the place as I loved the architecture and feel of it. No major agenda but as I am planning for the next stop on this short journey, I decided to jot down a quick bucket-list which I can refer to next time I am here.

Maybe it will also help you the reader in case you are off to Jaipur at some point of time. Without further ado,

1) Galtaji & Sun Temple: I am totally intrigued by these two temples which are supposed to be close to each other. They give me a sense of being offbeat hence maybe more authentic. Also I have always been curious about seeing sun temples as they are so rare. The Galtaji temple also sounds interesting.

2) Temple Walk in the Old City: I went on a exploration walk in Bhuleshwar area in Mumbai which turned out to be chalkful of some very intriguing temples. I am getting a similar feeling of the old city of Jaipur, every little distance there seems to be a temple – some have long lines outside them, some with old architecture, some just small and quaint. Would be worth I think to go see the various temples one day understanding their history and so on…

3) Authentic Cuisine: I should have managed to have some authentic stuff in these three days, but like I said I am a slow explorer. I did have some freshly made kachoris but apart from that hardly tasted any local cuisine. Some lassi-walas here are supposed to be really famous – and no they don’t serve bhaang is what I have been told. There are also some small dhaabas in the old city – maybe they would give tasty fare. More research needs to be done here. Let me know if you have any suggestions.

4) Naharagarh & Amer Forts: Yes I didn’t do either of them. Note to remember: Behind Amer there are some wells – Panna Meera & near Naharagarh there are royal tombs which should be worth a visit.

Are there any other places I should add to this list?

Will blog about what all I did in Jaipur soon! 🙂

@ Jaipur Hawa Mahal
@ Jaipur Hawa Mahal

Sikkim Photos

Went to the absolutely stunning Sikkim a few years back. It is also referred to as the Switzerland of India, but I am not sure Switzerland is so awesome!

This was a family trip and part of the group had been to most of the places in Sikkim, so they wanted to go specifically to a place called Gurudongmar Lake. This lake is at 10,000 ft! It was an adventurous trip with a bunch of Jain folks heading into the mountains. Most older folks had to forego dinner because all the places looked and felt like predominantly non-veggie! Youngsters including me had maggi where ever we went!

With a day of acclimatization in Gangtok which is very less…we headed up into the mountains. Generally people go to Yumthang and other places on the way. This way they see all those places and also get acclimatized, but since the other people didn’t have that much time, we headed straight to Gurudongmar.

Sikkim, Gurudongmar Lake
Completely surreal.. snow clad fields with yaks…
Sikkim, Gurudongmar Lake
Human Element

After an overnight halt at a small town we headed onward to the lake, which is in completely snow clad terrain. It is also very close to the China border, so much so that you can actually see that side of the border – little igloo type mounds where Chinese soldiers might be keeping a watch. There is no demarcation of the border but its known to the locals. We finally couldn’t go to the lake itself as the whole road was snowed but we went very close. It was walking distance away however due to weather conditions we had to turn back!
This was my first encounter with snow! 🙂

Sikkim
Water trickling down a mountain
Sikkim
:O I can’t remember where, where I shot this!
Sikkim
Rumtek Monastery

Sikkim is truly wonderful. I loved this Himalayan stretch than any other! The monasteries, fields, mountains are just magnificient. Gangtok as a hill station is also lovely. Its bazaaar street is quaint with enjoyable music playing in the evenings and enough little benches for everyone to sit on. There are some very good quiet tea shops where you can have some hot herbal tea and enjoy the scenic view of the hill town! Enchanting place!

Sikkim
Bridges filled with Tibetan flags!

Sikkim is also very well managed by its government. I inquired with the drivers and local people, almost every small village had electricity, computers, TVs with cable and mobile connectivity. Decent literacy. The government has also been quite proactive in adopting eco-friendly policies of development. Plastic bags are completely banned here.

Overall definitely a must visit!

Chandigarh in Pictures

Chandigarh was the stop over for my trip to the Himachal Pradesh, April 2013. It was a good stop over. India’s planned city does come across as planned. The buildings are shorter with a height limit, the roads are really wide, lots of gardens, sectors that are well defined but confusing for outsiders and a lot of other salient aspects. These set it apart from your usual Indian city that usually resembles a jumble.

The organized sectorial layout is evident from the plane,
Chandigarh in Pictures
Chandigarh in Pictures

So many colorful trees – yellow, purple, orange… wow! First time I saw Spring season!

Chandigarh in Pictures Chandigarh in Pictures

Rock garden which was quite interesting……Chandigarh in Pictures

and also quite claustrophobic at times, so people scared of confined spaces – Don’t go because its a 1 hour walk and there are exits only at the two ends. So in the middle if you want turn back its a damn long walk…… Chandigarh in Pictures

The whole fort like structure was made of odd stuff. Not always rock even socket/plug waste, gunny bags, broken tiles and what not! It was interesting but also a little bewildering…. what was the guy who made it upto?

Loved the adult swings in the ‘courtyard’ of Rock Garden

Chandigarh in Pictures

The rose garden is worth its name! Lovely, varied splashes of color, huge blooms, fragrant air… Chandigarh in Pictures
Chandigarh is the city of gardens, scooch over Bangalore! 🙂

Sangla Pictures after heavy rainfalls – #Uttarakhand Floods

A friend of mine has a quaint little restaurant + home stay called Cafe 42 in Sangla. Sangla is near the eastern borders of Himachal Pradesh hence quite close to Uttarakhand. There were no floods but very heavy rainfall for many days, leading to a power blackout for more than 7 days. Many roads have been washed out, there have been land slides here and some people have lost their property but no one is reported to have died.

She charged her phone in the market where there was an inverter. Here are some of the pics she sent me via Whatsapp (hence the low res)

Sangla Heavy Rains
Road block due to heavy rains
Sangla Heavy Rains
Land slide top view..blurred because these are low res pics sent via Whatsapp
Sangla
Snow capped mountains as beautiful as ever 🙂
Sangla
Rescue Helicopter?.. yet the beautiful mountain backdrop is so serene
Sangla
Recent snow fall

Am in touch with her, she may go to the main bazaar area in Sangla and take pics there. If so will update here.

The Sangla town seems to be in an OK shape compared to other places in the valley and Kinnaur area of Himachal which seems to be worse hit.

3 Tips for McLeodganj

I will quickly jot type some of these tips I had in mind when I was in McLeodganj. Once I come back to Mumbai I get so caught up with things that I barely write half of what I want to about places I have visited. So here goes,

Visit the Bookstores
I devour books. Reading 2/3 books in a week is normal for me along with all the work and stuff. So when I saw a quaint little bookstore with a Tibetan lady sitting inside I decided its time for a look. Due to the large number of international travelers coming and staying here the book collection was a brilliant hodgepodge of books from around the world! There are also multi-lingual books in German, French, Spanish… I saw some very good Japanese books like The Maid by TsuTsui Yasutaka. I also saw some real life stories about Tibetan Refuges. I wanted to pick up so many books and fill my whole rucksack in that shop! 🙂
The bookshop I went to: BookWorm, Hotel Bhagsu Road. Tel: 01892 221465

I also visited a couple of other shops and they also had an intriguing collection of books!

Try out authentic Tibetan/Chinese/Japanese cuisine
I probably don’t need to say Visit the Cafes but you should definitely visit some who serve authentic Tibetan cuisine. Many also serve some typical dishes of Japan/China/Taiwan etc.. which we don’t get in our famous Chinese restaurant chains like Mainland China & Five Spice 😉
One such I would highly recommend is Common Ground. It has lovely ambiance and reading collection. This is where I first discovered Osamu Tezuka’s – Buddha Manga Series! The food choices are brilliant. I kept having steamed rice and veggies because finally I was getting no onion/garlic food. Beside the steamed rice was so delicious. I could have gobbled it up on its own!

Explore the Little Roads – Circumambulation around Tsuglag Khang Temple
There is a small road to circumambulate the main Buddhist Temple & Dalai Lama complex. I don’t think too many people know about it. Enroute there are benches to sit on and see the Dharamshala valley view and also some other smaller Buddhist temples. It is a 15 minutes enjoyable walk.

Circumambulate Tsuglag Khang the main Buddhist Temple
Circumambulate Tsuglag Khang the main Buddhist Temple

There are quite a few of these interesting little roads. Near the Common Ground cafe the dirt road goes up all the way to Dharamkot village. Its a lot more prettier than the tarred car road. There are also small road via trees and back steps which are mostly used by the Buddhist monks and such. So when I was chatting with a Buddhist nun, she took me via some back road through trees to Dharamkot. Then she showed me this other dirt road.

DSC06245

These are the few tips I would give you while visiting McL. There are also some of the usual tips which you will find elsewhere as well,

Talk to Tibetan folks. Lot of them are refugees with hardcore stories.

There are some really good Italian places like McLLo & Jimmy’s Kitchen.

I have heard that the Tibetan trinkets are better bought in the city where its cheaper. I am not sure about this though because I find them to be quite expensive in the cities as well.

To discuss Buddhism – the Library is a good place.

There are a lot of shops which offer workshops in their business like Making Silver Jewellery.

A shop that also teaches their trade. This is quite common here..
A shop that also teaches their trade. This is quite common here..

There are also Tibetan language classes, discussion groups and other interesting activities. You can see the notices for these on the wall near the TsuglagKhang gate.

Documentaries are screened at the Tibetan museum, which is located within the TK Complex

Apparently every once a week monks meet to have debates as part of their spiritual growth at TK. This would be an interesting watch.

If you have traveled to McLeo.. do add any more tips you have in comments! 🙂

Himachal People Gave me a Culture Shock because they are so Awesome! <3

Brilliant view from Palampur Bus Stop - On my way to McLeodganj from Mandi
Brilliant view from Palampur Bus Stop – On my way to McLeodganj from Mandi

Dharamshala. Dalai Lama. Tibetan Story. That was my whole pull to visit Himachal Pradesh. Actually it hardly mattered to me that it was Himachal Pradesh. Anyway all these states kind of get blurred when you are on the road. So there I was – unsuspecting I landed at the bus stop at Mandi.

The local buses looked good so I thought I will take those to my next stop Rewalsar. All of a sudden I was swarmed with 2/3 men – “Kahaan Jaa Rahe Ho?” (where do you want to go?) I figured they must be rickshaw or private taxi guys so gave them one of my unfriendly looks. Again they are asking.. so I  told them and very surprisingly they all just pointed out the right bus to me and told me to take that. Not just that: One of the fellows then ran ahead and told the bus conductor of that bus “Madam (or sister or something) Rewalsar jaa rahin hain. Unko barabar pahooncha dena” (Madam is going to Rewalsar, see that she reaches properly). Then very helpfully .. sit madam, sit.

This was very weird for me. I was not sure what is going on. Why are they so helpful. I remained very alert to any foul play. Instead of foul play I noticed that the conductor is so helpful even to the local people. If some old lady is waiting for bus then he will get down and help her up.

Whenever the bus stops at a crowded bus stop the conductor will get down, he will shout “Palampur” (or where ever the bus is going). Not just that: He will even go around asking individual groups or if he sees any old person hesitating because the bus is very crowded he will coax them. Telling them “I am there na” just climb up.

Once the bus reaches the destination the conductor helps take the luggage off the racks, especially if it is too heavy.

I sat on a Dharamshala bus. Then I told the conductor I want to go McLeodganj will I get another bus? Pat he replies “Why you are worrying. Once you have sat in this bus, you should think you have reached McLeodganj already” It was amazing so much so that I was getting a serious culture shock.

It was not that they are not busy. As I mentioned these buses are often so crowded. Yet, the involvement and intensity the conductors have was so amazing. He was like family member for all the passengers.

View from Padmasambhava Cave, Rewalsar
View from Padmasambhava Cave, Rewalsar

I was trekking up the hill to the Padmasambhava Cave in Rewalsar and the road I took passed through lots of houses. Most of them had small terraced wheat farms. Very picturesque. Couple of times I got confused because I was not sure which road fork to take. From somewhere I heard “Kidhar jaana hain?” (where do you want to go?) I turned and saw one lady peeping at me around her door. I just asked her and she guided me. Another house had kept a pot of water for any passerby to drink. For a moment I considered it might be drugged to kidnap people – because I am from Mumbai!! – anyway I drank it and it was not drugged. It felt really good.

Almost at the top I was so exhausted that I was just ruminating around but one lady from nearby thought I wasn’t sure about the route. So she pointed out the way to me and encouraged me. “Its just a little more!”. So many times I kept thinking that those people would ask me for money after helping me out.. but no one ever did.

So you see… I got culture shock. I have actually traveled in local buses and visited smaller towns in Karnataka/ Tamil Nadu but I have never been pushed so out of my comfort zone by the people. When I finally reached McLeodganj with its very-Tibetan flavor… I found myself missing the Himachali people.

Baffled. Bamboozled. Bludgeoned.

😉

McLeodGanj – A Place of Stories

DSC06272
It is a congested town, as so many towns in India are. Here however I felt stories. Lots of different stories unfolding… maybe because it is the place for the Tibetan government in exile, maybe because it is one of the few places where revolution/revolt/patriotism has some meaning, maybe because of the Llamas that are abound, maybe because I started wondering where are the Himachali people, maybe because of the awesome Himalayas that looked down upon the place, maybe cause I became a part of some stories myself!

There is a small path around the Dalai Lama residence, it is how a person circum-ambulate around the complex. There was just one Tibetan monk walking along with his prayer wheel, and one European fellow who told me what the path was about… so on I went strolling… the path was through the pines with Tibetan quote boards and prayer wheels on one side…

Tsuglag Khang
Circumambulation around the Tsuglag Khang

Soon I came across a bull and it seemed mad. I tried going past it but it kept nodding its head. The path was so small that it could just throw me off it! Then one other olderly gentleman walked past it and bull bumped him in the butt. But he got through. I totally freaked and started yelling about. The old monk shuffled ahead and actually stood so to push the bull back and give me way to cross. It was all too freaky the bull pushed him aside and started advancing. I managed to cross anyway but I can’t forget the monk who tried to clear the way for me by pushing the bull back. The fello was so old that it was admirable! I am touched. He then tried telling me something but I didn’t understand his language.

So you see …. stories.

I met a Buddhist nun and started chatting with her. She spoke Hindi and was from Ladakh. She took me to the place she stayed in – which was very much like a hut, but she had all amenities. She said it was because they were so close to Dalai Lama that they had all amenities otherwise the monasteries in Ladakh do not have such facilities. She kept ruminating about how she didn’t get any education when she was small, she went off to work in Leh as her parents needed the money. I told her how I helped street kids in Mumbai and her insight on these kids was astute because she herself was like one of them she said. We exchanged numbers and I will meet her when I go back… 🙂

DSC06264
.Stories.

I was casually interacting with a Tibetan. Later I found out that he was a Tibetan refugee and had crossed into India after a harrowing ordeal in 2003. It got me thinking. Now seeing news about self immolations in Tibet worries me greatly.

I am generally a shy kid but even I found myself amidst these stories… I could almost feel them unfolding… maybe it was the Dalai Lama’s presence… maybe it is just how that space is.

Short Guide to Rewalsar, Himachal Pradesh

Rewalsar Lake and Padmasambhava Idol

Hi there reader,

I generally don’t write such ‘short guide’ posts because they are so easily available online, except for a few destinations for whatever reasons. Rewalsar is one of them… so here goes for the benefit of my fellow travellers esp solo women because we tend to plan out where we will be staying and general safety!

Rewalsar is a small town around a lake. Lot of Tibetan monasteries, Hindu temples and Sikh gurudwara. In the words of a truck driver I met “people come here to pray”. Even though the lake is quite small, its picturesque especially in the evenings with llamas, tibetan folks walking about with their prayer wheel or beads. Many a times some of them start singing their ethereal mountain songs or prayer songs all of it is just enchanting. And its fairly clean at least by Indian standards!

Stay

Rewalsar
Drikung Monastery Rewalsar

There are ample stay options. I would suggest the budget rooms in the monasteries.

Drikung Petsek – to the right just when you enter through the gate. Rooms cost from 150/- to 250/- its very basic but offers a good view of the lake and the Padmasambhava idol!

Nyingmapa Monastery – This monastery has a nice little temple in the courtyard. It offers views of the lake too. They offer varied range of rooms from 250/- to 600/- so people can take their pick!

Contact: 01905-240226

Midway Hotel – There are many hotels in the town but especially for people who want to stay a bit away from the hustle & bustle can stay here. This is about 30 mins by staircase and 10 mins by vehicle from the lake. Its very close to the Tibetan cave mentioned below. They have a cafe with decent food. The family who owns it is also decent. The fare is from 300/- to 500/-

All the above are good for solo women as well, if any of them are wondering! 🙂

There are also good hotels which you will find with a quick Google search. Unless there is some Tibetan festival you really don’t need to reserve accommodation, just go there and you will find something good! 🙂

Food

So there is one restaurant that I found – Kora which is very centrally located close to the gates. Its egg-etarian i.e. serves vegetarian food and egg stuff. The person who owns it Bijay is friendly. The rates are very reasonable. The above mentioned Midway also has a good cafe… I didn’t try any other place…

Transport

You can travel to Rewalsar via Mandi in one hour in a local bus (25/-) or private taxi. Mandi is very well connected by buses and taxis to the rest of Himachal Pradesh. Mandi is about 4 hrs from Chandigarh and volvos to Manali/Dharamshala from Delhi/Chandigarh usually halt at Mandi so you can take any of those to travel here.

Attractions

Lake – awesome and sacred in Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism. Its also just picturesque!

Huge Padmasambhava idol, worship places, llamas and devotees chanting create a tranquil atmosphere!

Cave Temple – Padmasambhava is said to have meditated here. Going via a bus is just 10 mins but you can also take the stairs which take about 1 hr but its an interesting climb through local houses and small fields!

7 lakes – Rewalsar is one of 7 lakes. Would be fun to trek about to the other lakes! Himachal is so populated that there would be houses and roads to all these place thus making it very interesting!

Issues

Dogs – Crazy & loud howling at nights. This is why some people may prefer the far off stay places like Midway that I mentioned above! These dogs also pester when you are sitting by the lake. They just come and start scratching themselves right next to you!

Donations – Tibetan people come ask for donations because they are monks or they have lost their money for pilgrimage. They carry papers that are signed and authorized by someone. I don’t know the authenticity of these claims – i have seen many such hoaxes in Mumbai. Overall its a bit troublesome also cause in my 1 and half days of stay I found two such people coming to me and asking me – which creates an uncomfortable situation.

Overall this is one rare place where its a small town but still has decent stay and food options for us! Its a must visit when you are in Himachal Pradesh esp if you are looking out for places which are not entirely touristy!

I will be putting up more pictures of the place later on! 🙂

On the road in Kashmir with old hindi songs – Travel Memories

The thing about traveling is that there are these memories… I don’t know how to describe them! Thinking back on them they seem surreal! One of them is traveling on the Kashmir roads in the car with our Kashmiri driver who had this awesome collection of old hindi songs, many of them I had never heard of. I love these old bollywood classics and these were ones I had not heard yet and quite spell bound by them! I should have listed them sadly, don’t even remember them now!

It was not just this music, a lot of things came together. For Kashmir always there is this store of emotions and thoughts because I have grown knowing its a war torn land with terrorism and violence. Traveling on the road always excites me, I just love the scenery passing by and that too in the laps of the Himalayas is just insane!

We played lots of antakshari and had quite a bit of fun despite the fact that I was sick. I had some fever, cold and all sorts of stuff going on! 😀

For the cold I put some vicks on my nose. Now Jammu is a very dusty place. Its just really really dusty! Everyone’s face was coated with this dust and we were all one shade darker, but because of my vicks the dust stuck fiercely to my noise making a black cloud around my nose. It was quite gross but so interesting as a new experience. I used soap to remove it and look presentable!! 😀

Something about these travel memories make them unique and precious. There is a lighter, a free quality to them….

 

In Kashmir – Srinagar, the Lake City

What I only knew of Venice, that it was built on/around a water body and one could travel around in a gondola and it being very romantic is all also true of Srinagar. The Dal lake is not just a lake one can go boating in, it connects the city, one can travel to different parts of the city via the Shikara and it is romantic!
While on the boat ride many other boats will come offering products on sale – jewellery, food… You can also go to a market on boat, have some hot kahwa and maggi at a small foodstall all the while swaying on the gentle motion of the Shikara.

Dal Lake - Early Morning flower and vegetables market

 

The entire Dal lake is lined with house – boats and they are unique at least in the way they have been named. You will find the Cheerful Charlie, New Australia, Helen of Troy, King of Kashmir and many other very western named house boats here. The naming surprised me a lot because I cannot understand it’s source, have not seen such random western influence in other areas of India. Usually names of hotels, restaurants, shops are all Indian in most other cities with some rare English name like ‘Chinese dragon’ but here every name seems to top the other in its western fantasy quotient!

We stayed in one such called ‘Soloman & Sheba’, it was very good. Bath tubs, English book collection, artistic rugs, working desks, tv with cable were just some of the luxuries.

The popularity of jain and Gujarati tourists can be clearly seen in the sheer number of restaurants that are pure veg and serving Jain food! We have tied up with some local tourist agency and boat guys to take us around the city. A lot of bargaining is possible.

Interesting places to see within the city incude,
Gardens – The Mughals really liked to stroll around in beautiful gardens. So srinagar has quite a few of these. Shalimar, Nisaan Bagh are the two we saw. Pretty good!

Shalimar Gardens

Shankaracharya temple – Its beautiful to see the scattering of ancient hindu temples in this Muslim populated land. Shankaracharya temple is in Srinagar itself on a hill. A popular tourist spot. This is a place built by the Pandavas and Shankaracharya did a lot of sadhana here before going off to build the Char Dhams.

Chashmeshahi – There is a small spring of water here which is said to miraculous properties. It seems Indira Gandhi when in office used to have an helicopter transport her daily water from this place.

Manasbal lake – Is a nice lake a few kilometres from Srinagar. This lake flows into the Jhelum river so you can go on a Shikara to see the confluence.

There also many nearby places to visit which are a few hours from the city,
Sonmarg – A glacier Thajiwas is seen here. Its an hours walk or you can take the pony. I would suggest don’t take the pony.

Gulmarg – The highest golf course in the world is situated here. It also has the world’s second longest Gondola.

Pehelgaam – This place has probably Kashmir best restaurant at Tulyan! It serves Chinese, South Indian and North Indian – all great food at par with restaurants here in Mumbai! Yummy. Ofcourse also some very pretty scenic spots around here – Betaab Valley, Chandanwari glacier, Aru valley etc.. This is also where the Amarnath caves route start from.

Betaab Valley on the way to Chandanwari Glacier

 

You can see more of my trip photographs on my Facebook Page!

What I only knew of Venice, that it was built on/around a water body and one could travel around in a gondola and it being very romantic is all also true of Srinagar. The Dal lake is not just a lake one can go boating in, it connects the city, one can travel to different parts of the city via the Shikara and it is crazy romantic!
While on the boat ride many other boats will come offering products on sale – jewellery, food… You can also go to a Market on boat, have some hot kahwa and maggi at a small foodstall all the while swaying on the gentle motion of the Shikara. 

The entire Dal lake is lined with house- boats and they are unique at least in the way they have been named. You will find the cheerful Charlie, new Australia, Helen of Troy, king of kashmir and many other very western named house boats here. The naming surprised me a lot because I cannot understand it’s source, have not seen such random western influence in other areas of India. Usually names of hotels, restaurants, shops are all Indian in most other cities with some rare English name like ‘Chinese dragon’ but here every name seems to top the other!

We stayed in one such called ‘soloman & sheba’, it was very good. bath tubs, English book collection, artistic rugs, working desks, tv were just some of the luxuries.

The popularity of jain and Gujarati tourists can be clearly seen in the sheer number of restaurants that are pure veg and serving Jain food!  We have tied up with some local tourist agency and boat guys to take us around the city.

Interesting places to see within the city incude,
Gardens
Shankaracharya temple
Chashmeshahi
Manasbal lake – jhellum

There also many nearby places to visit which are a few hours from the city,
Sonmarg
gulmarg
pehelgaam

Kargil, leh