Monsoons and the Himalaya’s

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I thought to start with the story of our monsoon roadtrip to the Himalaya’s it would be apt to begin with a picture of prayer flags. Before we left we did talk to a few people about our plan and most of the times everyone would immediately show concern about the rains, landslides, bad roads and how it was a very bad idea, not out of anything else but out of worry for us. Its kind of a catch 22 situation, you know they care for you, you know they want you to be safe and yet you must ignore cause it cannot be explained to them that its not such a bad idea, that things can always be worked out, that people live in the Himalaya’s in the monsoon and travel there and that nothing happens if you just be careful.

 

Its sort of important to stay on course and not budge, because once you set out of home let me assure you, you are in for a trip of a lifetime. The Himalaya’s are in a totally different mood during the monsoon, they seem to have bathed, they seem to be breathing clouds, they seem like they have been put through some filter that is just amazingly fresh and pristine. If the Himalaya’s were people, they are probably living their lives at their best during the monsoon.

 

It is fresh apple season, the streams are full, the nullah’s are overflowing rapidly and ferociously, crossing them is a thrill in itself, the hills and pines seem to be cooking clouds all the time and its time when you just sit, gape and gasp at the changing weather. You are admist clouds for a minute and another minute you could have a scorching sun on you.

 

The 20 days we spent there were pretty much without any dangerous incident, we didn’t go looking for trouble and I would say the Himalaya’s in the monsoon are a perfect destination to travel. I would actually prefer the monsoon over the summers for a trip to the Himalaya’s, even for us guys from the plains. Not only is the temperature perfect for us but the amount of freshness that is oozing there during these months has probably increased a couple of years of our lives!

 

So stay tuned for more stories and pictures of the Himalayan Monsoon Roadtrip and before I go, here is one more eye candy!

 

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Breaking the break!

My beleaguered blog needs some revival, its been a while I even looked at the blog, forget writing a post, consciously I need to now get back to regular posting and note down my travel experiences before I start forgetting them! I guess writing down is a habit and it is safe to say this time I am out of habit. Life has been way to eventful at times to actually sit back and soak it all in and summarise and hence the absence from the writing scene. I guess it happens to almost all of us. So many times it feels like the blog is dead and then somehow something inside me tells me to never give up on this idea, somehow keep it alive and sustain it and keep writing, whatever gibberish it may be, just do not give up!

 

At the very least remember to post travel stories! Although pretty much in a phase of life where I am not travelling right now, I must though ensure I tell you I did travel in January to the city of joy and then went tiger spotting in Sunderbans! 😀 😀

 

Yes bitches! I did, ate many Rosogullas and Kolkata Rolls and Mishti Doi’s and even went gliding down the beautiful mangrove forests! So whilst I am not telling you everything about the entire trip right away. I am atleast breaking the break from the blog and am promising to myself more than anyone else that I will be here more often! 😀 😀

 

I’ll leave you with one photo taken during our gliding around the the delta of Sunderbans, on a misty day when the horizon disappeared this boat broke the illusion that had been created! 🙂

 

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Welcome to the Mangrove

So we went on a river safari on Madu Ganga, as many mangroves as we have and as many failed attempts I made to visit the Sunderbans, this was my first visit to the mangroves, excitement was palpable between the two of us. A journey into something unknown, something new always is looked at eagerly with a lot of nervous energy at most times.

 

To beat the crowd our host suggested we go as early as 6 am so that we would not have a lot of crowd which usually pours in after 9am. The early morning trip meant a lot of quiet, peace, easy to grab a boat as the boatmen were eager and free and offered a discount. All that done we hopped onto a boat and we went on our way onto the beautiful Madu river. Our boat guide constantly talking to us and keeping us engaged and informed about the surroundings and from time to time making sure he yelled for us to keep our heads lower as we passed under some bridges that criss crossed the river.

 

The river is pretty huge which did not seem like when we started, but as we went on we discovered many small islands, some with temples, some with small settlements of people in the river. Some of the islands are connected by bridges and some are only connected by boats and yes they have people living there. There are some cinnamon plantations inside, apparently some of the best cinnamon in the world comes from here.

 

We spotted a lot of water monitors, monkeys, kingfishers, brahminy kites in just 10 mins on the safari. It being so early in the morning meant poor light and that meant poor pictures, however, the whole experience was wonderful, a lot of nervous energy gave way to elation of spotting so many creatures going about their life early in the morning. With no visitors apart from us meant we would keep things quieter and wait patiently and slowly glide closer to the animals as they lay about or fished or ate some fruits.

 

We even visited one Buddhist temple on the river that is some 200 years old and I saw the largest squirrel I have ever seen there!

 

The high point though was this picture below, entering into this darkness, the branches and the leaves that don’t allow the sun to enter, the being so close to the branches so little space to run if something were to come onto you, no it was not spooky but for the first few minutes we were nervous and excited both at the same time, apparently I have learnt that this is still a pretty small version of what you could see in the Sunderbans and hence my goal to visit it for sure and soon. The feeling inside the mangroves was something I have not experience, a part of this planet that is so different from others that I have seen, a thriving eco-system to boot. We absolutely loved the little time we were inside.

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This in particular is a part of travel, discovering something new, experiencing things you have not experienced before seeing new things is what keeps us all going ain’t it?

 

Here are a few more pictures!

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At day break we were off on our journey into experiencing something new! 🙂

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Probably the smallest island on the river!

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A water monitor lazing on a tree, he didn’t even blink an eyelid on seeing us! He was almost saying Go away… the tourist time is after 9!!

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There are many foot massage parlours and the labour involved in the massage literally eat your dead skin! 😀

Off the grid in Kandy

Loads of people go to Kandy in Sri Lanka, one of the major buddhist destinations in the country & a pretty regular place to visit in your Sri Lanka itinerary, situated in the central province and a shining jewel in Sri Lanka’s hill country. However, I am a bit of a loather of doing things that are popular or visit places that are frequented by too many tourists.

 

Thanks to the fact that we were living with locals as I mentioned in my earlier post here we were fortunate enough to discover a few slightly more quieter and lesser explored spots. Our host said that instead of spending time on the Kandy lake which is in the middle of the city near the Temple of Tooth, we try out Sembuwatte Lake along with a picnic lunch. We gladly accepted his suggestion and packed some wholesome food made by our host and headed for Sembuwatte Lake, about 20 kms from Kandy, this lake is in a Tea Estate and is amazingly beautiful, located at a much higher altitude than Kandy it had wonderful weather and was very serene, peaceful and sparsely crowded. The weather in that part also kept on changing very fast from sunny to a shower to showing us a total white out!

 

Tuktuk’s ply to this lake, which somehow the Arabs believe is facing Mecca, I don’t know how religious people come out with such notions. On the way there are a few restaurants serving Arabic Food, a few people had come there for picnic all prepared with a gas stove and all to cook their food. Its a very pretty place as you can see from these pictures!

 

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Thats the place!

 

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There are some small shelters made around for you to sit about when it rains or to make your lunch. Best thing is they are all spaced out enough to offer privacy to everyone visiting there.

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Thats the scene when clouds take over, this was shot at 1 in the noon!

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The place is lively with colours, various shades of green, Kingfishers that keep hopping in and out of the water and loads of Brahminy Kite’s hovering around

 

On the way back from Sembuwatta we also stopped at Hunas Waterfalls which were a very pretty sight as well. The whole ride from Kandy to Sembuwatta Lake and back is scenic, many sections look like a scene out of Congo really!

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Hunas Water fall, seemed so much like a place that would be in Congo!

 

We spent a day just lazing, sighing and soaking in the views whilst munching on our food that was packed. Whilst there is a 5 star hotel near Hunas Waterfall, when you go to Sembuwatta lake remember to carry your own food. There is no food shop there and trust me you will want to spend more time there. A spoiler is that the lake is controlled by a tea estate and they charge 1000 LKR for foreigner entry inside their estate. Bathing is not allowed in the lake, however, they have made a pool of the same natural flowing water so that you can bath in the water at the same time not spoil the serenity of the lake. Amazingly clean and well kept lake surrounded by tea gardens is a lovely place for a picnic.

 

Hunas waterfall is an entry fee of 300 LKR, slightly commercialised however the place is breathtakingly beautiful, you can anyways see the waterfall without paying the 300 LKR. Tuktuk from Kandy would cost around 1500-1800 for a day trip along with waiting charges.

 

 

Road trips

Travel was a bug that had bit me probably whilst I was a very small kid, however, the effect of that bug started showing its true colours pretty late in life. Earlier the penchant to travel was to be fulfilled only with fantasies or books, finally last few years it is starting to become a bit of a reality. I learnt driving also pretty late, infact 3 years back when I bought a car I didn’t even know properly how to drive. Thankfully as my wife says to me I have taken to it like a fish takes to water!

 

It was always ingrained in my brains that I want to drive my car to all remote corners of this world, more so to the Himalayas, stopping where I liked, taking in all the sights, photographing any peak I found pretty or screeching my brakes at the sight of an unknown bird! I did want to do it and no other driver could tolerate the number of breaks I keep taking to click a pic or to buy some fruit being sold or take a piss or smoke when I found a pretty view which had to be soaked in.

 

The first trip to the Himalaya’s was quite tentative with every loved one giving me loads of advice to be careful as they all wanted me to go and come back safe to this year, my third road trip to the Himalaya’s all self driven I have come a long way.

 

The thing about road trips are, they are most comfortable, you can plan your schedules without any other criteria but your own comfort, you decide if you want to drive 400 kms a day or 900, if you want to drive in the night or day, if you want to suddenly change your destination you can, impromptu decisions infact make them even better I say.

 

Selecting a place to eat is a major event for me on Road Trips, tips from friends, internet or simply places that look attractive to me all kind of fill up the activity chart along with driving all day. In the Himalaya’s stopping at a random Dhaba for tea that has a splendid view is something I really heart. Talking to folks who are amazed that you have driven all the way from Gujarat kinda swells my small ego like anything. I feel proud almost! 🙂 Suddenly sighting someone selling some berries or someone pasting fruits with salt and masala and you can bet I will be stopping around to pick up something.

 

Watching how the topography changes as you keep changing states and regions is quite amazing, how when you are about to reach a Tiger reserve the forests start swelling and how the population starts to dwindle is quite dramatic. In the Himalayas when you are driving you many times wonder how some of the most steep and remote mountains have a house or two on them, wonder how do people select these places. Wonder how they manage their day to day resources living at such remote locations but then I guess many people prefer a good view, silence and peace to most other things in life! 🙂

 

As far as safety is concerned, what I have learned from my little experience of driving around Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, UP, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Punjab, Himachal, Goa& Karnataka is that most of the places are pretty much safe. We generally try not to drive a lot in the night, trying our best to reach our destinations before dark on most occasions. If you are just a tad careful and don’t be rash, frankly there are not so many terrors as people would have you believe on the road. Generally people drive safe and all want to live so don’t worry, be careful you don’t bump into anyone, most of the other drivers don’t want to bump into you as well. The fact that I am on a holiday kind of makes my driving a little more patient than say when I am driving for work!

 

As I make a road trip after another, I keep falling in love, not so much with driving but with the idea of moving about all the time, going to new places and navigating my own way.

 

Here is a picture of me whilst on my way to Jauljibi from Munsiyari where we crossed a bridge into Nepal. This place thrilled me, what a wonderful place to stop aint it?! You stop your car on a hot day, open the door and walk two days and you are into a chilling waterfall. How cool is that!? These places do exist in India and many a times there are so many pretty places you encounter on the road which are not mentioned on any travel site or included in any travel package.

 

So here’s to more road trips in future! 🙂

 

 

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A sunset

The fun thing about road trips is that you have to make halts, several halts at that, to pick up a cold bottle of water or to take a leak or to pick up some nice looking guava’s from the road side or sometimes the crowd around a Kachori wala hawker attracts you. These are some of the reasons I love road trips. You can converse all the time, you can do as per your whim all the time. This time round, instead of going to Jaipur directly from Bharuch enroute the Himalaya’s where we usually take our first break, we started a day early! Yes, that is one more perk of taking a road trip, I didn’t have much work and so we started early and we thought we would book a hotel with a pool and beat the heat.

 

So we selected Udaipur and reached there by noon, we took a dip in the pool and after that decided to stroll about the Fatehsagar lake as for us Bharuchi’s that weather that day in Udaipur was certainly pleasant. We walked about camera in hand on the many stalls of Fatehsagar lake wondering where to eat. What I didn’t know is that the place has an absolutely gorgeous setting for a sunset! Its straight out of the drawings we used to do as kids. Mostly we would have a water body, behind the water body some mountains, a sun setting or rising and maybe a few birds in the sky, a boat in the water and a few people standing by. Well I guess if I have built up an image in your head… here goes!

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There, aint it the one we, who were poor in drawing always paint this type of scenery? DSC_0297

Even junior loved the setting and kept gazing!

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As you walked about it showed different shades! Snapchat-2325227793258955769

Tea in a kulhad with such a view was a blessing I tell you! DSC_0277

Sigh… I did fall in love with this sunset!

 

 

Mandu -A conglomeration of cultures

Indian history is so vast and diverse that studying it in one lifetime perhaps is not possible, the records of such a long time are available and the fact that it is such a vast country and there is so much diversity makes it an interesting subject no end. Whilst I was taught history in school, honestly, I was not that fascinated, for in exams that would ask which year who defeated whom and all that and remember the AD and BC and all that seemed a super headache. Perhaps the system of testing instead of narrating stories was what killed it. Whilst the class would invariably be interesting, the exams would be dreaded by all of us.

 

What the history classes did not achieve was ultimately achieved by ‘Amar Chitra Katha’ 

 

Reading these books whilst growing up is one of the highlights of my life and also a stark reminder that history always fascinated me. Especially when narrated well nothing can beat the stories from the past. So during this road trip to Pench NP, we decided to drop anchor at Mandu for a day.

 

Mandu, previously known as Mandavgadh, is an amazing location, ideally to be visited in Monsoon, is an amazing conglomeration of cultures and tells you so much about India’s diverse history. The story of invasions, prosperity, art and culture booming, eventually cultural invasions and most spectacularly even architectural conversions!!

 

As our guide narrated, originally founded by Raja Bhoj, Mandu was once a prosperous town, well populated and pretty educated and liberated society. It is said even the then lowly considered weavers would be able to write shloka’s in Sanskrit back then, that high was literacy during the times of Raja Bhoj in the 11th century. Eventually as the centuries passed, it was won over by the Afghans, the Ghuri dynasty was established and began Mandu’s golden age. (source : wiki)  The subsequent take over the the Khilji’s and during the reign of one of its most colourful king Ghiyas ud din who buillt a harem of almost  women to equal the number of wive’s Krishna had (as per our guide) tells you how many tales this place holds.

 

The most popular story, which has been told a lot and even has had a popular hindi film made on is of the romance between Baz Bahadur and Rani Rupmati. The tale as narrated by the guides here is stuff of so many unbelievable happenings and makes you wonder as to how the people of that generation thought. The entire truth again is probably lying somewhere in between. How a Muslim king and a Hindu princess fall in love, their palaces which look to have been  built for practicing and performance of music and dance, the Rupmati pavilion built for her to worship the Narmada river before she ate anything overlooking the Narmada valley tells you of splendors and whims of the rulers of that era.

 

Mandu today has several World Unesco Heritage sites, its architecture from the days gone by tell you of the engineering that might have been used in those days. The swimming pools, to hot water showers, to sauna’s, numerous escape routes, the music rooms that involve telephonic technology almost are a delight to view and soak in. Do hire a good guide and do take in all the story he tells you with a pinch of salt, history they tell you might be distorted a bit, the narration however, helps build a more interesting experience. The architecture of the place as the guides show us has several traces of so much diversity Jain, Hindu, Muslim and Farsi influences are clearly visible telling you that each one came in and tried to leave their mark on history.

 

Although I visited it in March, a relatively dry and barren time of the year, ideally visit Mandu during Monsoon, not for nothing did the Mughal’s including Akbar treat this as a monsoon retreat. It is a pleasure that must not be missed. The Jahaz Mahal during the monsoon is a visual treat you do not want to miss.

 

Here are a few pics from our trip there :

On the far right is Jahaz Mahal, the entire area is flooded during monsoon, it also has a lake on its back side and appears like it is a floating palace in the monsoon. A sight you do not want to miss.

On the far right is Jahaz Mahal, the entire area is flooded during monsoon, it also has a lake on its back side and appears like it is a floating palace in the monsoon. A sight you do not want to miss.

The Jahaz mahal is said to have been a harem that housed some 16000 women, in the monsoon I am sure the Sultan boarded this ship till the rain's gave up! ;)

The Jahaz mahal is said to have been a harem that housed some 16000 women, in the monsoon I am sure the Sultan boarded this ship till the rain’s gave up! 😉

The Hoshang Shah tomb made of marble that is said to have inspired the architect's of Shah Jahan who were responsible for the Taj Mahal

The Hoshang Shah tomb made of marble that is said to have inspired the architect’s of Shah Jahan who were responsible for the Taj Mahal

The walking path in the Rani Rupmati Pavilion

The walking path in the Rani Rupmati Pavilion

This used to be the swimming pool in Baz Bahadur's palace, amazing is how they managed the water cleaning system and all.

This used to be the swimming pool in Baz Bahadur’s palace, amazing is how they managed the water cleaning system and all.

Hindola Mahal, the place where the women kept in the harem would entertain themselves on swings.

Hindola Mahal, the place where the women kept in the harem would entertain themselves on swings.

The hindola mahal from inside, said to have had huge swings in its time.

The hindola mahal from inside, said to have had huge swings in its time.

A perspective of Jami Masjid in Mandu

A perspective of Jami Masjid in Mandu

Mandu is a delight for any photographer! A must visit place

Mandu is a delight for any photographer! A must visit place

The wanderlust in you will love this place over looking the Narmada Valley!

The wanderlust in you will love this place over looking the Narmada Valley!

 

Sarafa Bazaar – Indore

Caution : Do not read if on empty stomach. This post contains harmful photo’s and details if you are on a diet!

 

There are markets and malls and then there are Sarafa Bazaar sort of markets, the one in Indore tells me just how much I love window shopping as well, just the right products need to be advertised! Cliche’s all I tell you that say only women love window shopping. There is just so much food available in the Sarafa Bazaar in Indore that you cannot imagine the kind of orgy my mind indulges in each time I visit it. I have to concede I have not seen any Sarafa Bazaar of this scale. My mind is unable to make a decision what to eat and what to leave for next time. There is just such a huge variety of food available that even my epic appetite has to select what desires to satiate.

 

Per se, Sarafa Bazaar, means a Bullion Exchange, however, this bazaar for me has nothing to do with Gold. Indore’s Sarafa Bazaar becomes even more throbbing, happening and crowded ones all the Jewellers close shops. This is when the food stalls make their entry, as all the jewellers go home, their shop verandah’s and the whole street is littered by food stalls. Now, I have seen a lot of street markets, indulged in them, yet, this one stands apart. Two things, for me that separate it are one the fact that they are not selling the overly popular dishes, the major dishes here are not easily available everywhere else, you just have to come to Indore for them, like Bhutte ki Kees, Garadu, Sabudana Khichdi(nowhere else you get it like here), Jalebo(imarti) etc and secondly I have not seen any place where so many sweet stalls are put out on road, temporary ones at that!

 

There are a few popular fixed shops that run day and till late in the night like the Mittal Kachori/Samosa wala, Vijay ki Petis and Joshi ke Dahiwade but them apart a majority of them are temporary stalls that come to existence after the goldsmith’s have gone home after minting money. The stalls come to mint money and people make a beeline not seen during the day by the goldsmith’s.

 

Let me just list a few things you never want to miss out on if you are there :

1.) Bhutte Ki Kees (my personal favourite, I prefer it extra nimbu maarke)

2.) In winters never miss out on Garadu

3.) Joshi Ka Dahiwada – The man is a showman, the way he will feed you is completely unique. He is on youtube too if you want to see him . 

4.) Vijay Chaat ki Petis – This is divinity I tell you! hat

5.) Aloo Tikki Chat

6.) Jalebo – A sort of a jalebi/imarti that is as fat as your thumb! One piece does it for 5 people!

7.) Rabdi with Malpua.

After having eaten all these if there is still space in your belly, there is Sabudana Khichdi, Samosa’s, Kachaudi’s, Kulfi’s, Kala Jamun’s(hot), GulabJambun’s (hot), MoongDaal Halwa(hot), Gajar Ka Halwa(hot & seasonal), Pizza, PavBhaji, Cheese Faafda’s, Dosa’s, Fruit Chat, Chinese, Pani Puri and Chats & Bhel Pakodi’s and what not, the list really is never ending!

 

But yes one thing you will need before you do any of this is drink a Jaljeera first! 😛

 

The sheer scale of food that is available in this small market of that you can walk through in a matter of 3 minutes, that is if you can beat the crowd, is surely going to flood the place with your drool!  This place opens at around 8-9 in the night and goes on well till about 2 am in the night. When you are there you cannot comprehend how many people are eating at this ungodly hour! The market is throbbing and bustling with gluttony in the middle of the night! You just have to go there to see and believe what I am talking about.

 

Indore is called the food capital of Central India, I don’t think anyone can contest that, I mean apart from the Sarafa Bazaar there is another such crazy hangout zone called ‘Chappan Dukaan’ (meaning 56shops) obviously of food all lined up. The highlights are just unending you know, be it Laal Balti ki Kachaudi or Johny ka Hot Dog or Daal Baafle, the Indori’s are one crazy foodie bunch I tell you, from morning Poha Jalebi or Poha Ussal’s to the Malpua’s late in the night! The amount of Namkeen, Sweets, food these people consume is stuff of legends. These folks have my respect I tell you!!

 

If ever you happen to be going to the Hindustan Ka Dil, Heart of Incredible India, as MP tourism dept puts it make sure you are spending atleast 2 days in Indore for just indulging a bit. 🙂 😀

 

Here are a few pics of the foodie heaven of Sarafa Bazaar from a couple of days back when I was passing through and I stopped specially for this.

Perhaps start with a Paani Puri

Perhaps start with a Paani Puri

Thodi Bhutte Ki Kees extra Neembu Maarke ;)

Thodi Bhutte Ki Kees extra Neembu Maarke 😉

Aloo Tikki and Bhutte Ki Kees vendor at work

Aloo Tikki and Bhutte Ki Kees vendor at work

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Aaj Kya loge ji? Kalajamun? Gulab Jamun? Ya Rabdi ke Saath Malpua!? 😛 😛

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Jalebi to gareeb log khaate honge.. Indori’s eat Jalebo! 😛

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The sheer amount of Ghee and Tikki’s that are eaten is awe inspiring!

If you want, we are ready with Gola's! Sirf Flavour bataiye!

If you want, we are ready with Gola’s! Sirf Flavour bataiye!