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Travel Point…. Experience Corner….. down the lane of Memories


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Chikmagalur : A Perfect Weekend Getaway

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“It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.”  -Robert Louis Stevenson

Chikmagalur is one of the top weekend destinations from Bangalore, though it is still away from the lime light. The hill station is famous for coffee plantation, greenery and a number of waterfalls. On one weekend we, a group of five friends: Abinash, Ritesh, Britto, Prabina and I decided to explore this beautiful place. Abinash has a Grand i10 and Britto is a self-proclaimed F1 racer :p So ‘how to reach’ wasn’t a hassle at all this time 😀

How to Reach Chikmagalur:

It is around 250 km away from Bangalore and is a 4-hour journey. The road is pretty good for most of the part. A number of state-run and private buses ply to the place. The nearest railway station is Kadur which is 40 km away. The best option is to hire a cab. Now a lot of options are there: Ola Outstation, Goibibo Cab, MMT Cab service etc. If you have  a car, you can even hire only a driver and go. DriveU, Hire4Drive, ezidrive, Zuber are a few driver hiring sites. We decided to make it a self-drive road trip to reap the most out of it. We started from Bangalore around 4:30 AM.

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A dam we came across on the way

Where to Stay:

A lot of options are available depending of budget, luxury and experience. Zostel Chikmagalur is one of the top choices in terms of budget and experience. But we decided to  go beyond that and to choose the best in terms of experience. We had booked our stay at Forest Homestay – Maradi(Aldur). It is 27km away from the main city Chikmagalur, and exists among dense forest and coffee plantation. A few of my friends had been here last year and had shared their experience with me. If you want a serene and out of the world experience, then this is the place. Apart from Airtel, you hardly will get any network here. So like literally out of the hustle bustle of busy life.

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For booking, you can check online on Goibibo or you can contact directly at below mentioned no. (Nuthan: 9449175960, Omar Homestay Advisor : 9538280008. This is just for reference purpose only.) They charge by person basis which includes Stay(Cottage or Tent), Food(Breakfast, Lunch, Snacks & Dinner : Both Veg and Non-Veg), welcome drink, one morning trek, night campfire and a few other engaging activities. Additionally, you can inform them for additional snacks: Chicken(400 per KG), Fish(500 per KG), Mutton (600 per KG). This includes making and service charge. Even home made wine is available on chargeable basis(Figwine: INR 500 per bottle, rest: INR 250 per bottle). They have made provisions to play badminton, cricket, carom, rifle-shooting and Bow & Arrow. Visit their official site for details.

Mulyangiri:

It is around 23 km away from Chikmagalur. We reached Chikmagalur around 9:30 AM and our check-in time at hotel was 12 noon. So though we had planned to go here the next day, we went the same day after having some breakfast at Chikmagalur.

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On the way to Mulyangiri

The last stretch of the road was bit bumpy and narrow; but we had Captain Britto at our side. We never hesitated to stop n click on the way. We reached around 11 AM at Mulyangiri peak. The weather was pleasing, neither cloudy nor sunny. There is a temple on the Mulyangiri peak which is a 15-20 mins climb. The route is smooth and there are stairs till the top. The view from up there was magnificent. There was greenery everywhere, till the eyes could see. We enjoyed the beauty for sometime and started our journey to the home-stay around 12 noon.

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We had to again comeback to Chikmagalur and to take a different route for the Homestay. The last 4km of the road to the homestay was really in bad shape. But they were repairing that. Hopefully, in a few months, that will be fine. The Homestay was at the remotest corner of the forest and the road ends there only. We reached the homestay around 1:15 PM. We were taken to our cottage which was 100m away from the parking area. We were greeted with welcome drinks: Mango and Lemon drinks. After a long travel, it was the best one could get in that dense forest. The location of the homestay was just perfect like a single cottage in the middle of the forest and coffee garden. As it was Friday, there was no one apart from us. So the entire place was ours to enjoy.

Though everyone was damn tired, two had directly come from Chennai and almost everyone had 1 to 2 hrs of sleep last night; still everyone could have been found at the badminton ground.

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And the irony was I had fever the previous day, but it all vanished once we reached Chikmagalur 🙂 We played for around half an hour and then asked for the lunch. After getting refreshed, we came to dining table. Thank god, they had  a geyser there. The lunch was delicious, as we were all non-vegetarians; they had made two chicken dishes. All the dish was cooked in local malada style with a flavour of their speciality. After a sumptuous lunch, we were supposed to go to Shankar falls which was  nearby only. But due to some reasons, it was closed those days. So we decided to pay a visit to a nearby pond(they call it lake :p) after a short break.

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Coffee

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Spiders were ruling the spot!

Around 3:30 PM, we started for the pond. They provided life jackets to everyone for the safety. It was just a 5 min walk from the cottage. But when we reached the pond, we were disappointed. The water wasn’t that clean and it was a small one. Noone was ready to take a plunge in that. Then the staff members jumped in and cleaned the water a bit. Prabina and Britto finally took a plunge. I didn’t risk it as I was out of fever just a few hrs back 😀 And it wasn’t that tempting also.

Then we came back to the cottage and played some games. Some were busy with badminton and a few other with the rifle and bow n arrow.

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Around 5PM ,we started for the sunset point. It was a 15 mins walk from the cottage. The place was awesome. Peace and calmness was in the air. The forest was surround us and a huge mountain at our back. And the sun in its golden glory descending below the horizon. We sat there for quite sometime and enjoyed the golden touch of nature to the fullest. We clicked some awesome sunset pics and made our way to the homestay. It was pitch dark by the time we were returning.

We took a short break and then had snacks: pakoda and fresh filter coffee. After  a while, we lighted up the campfire and started the forest party. We had ordered for pepper-chicken, chicken kabab, chilly chicken and fish fries. They kept bringing one by one and under that almost full-moon night, beside the campfire ; we continued our party. It wasn’t that cold that evening, but it was pleasant weather. The babbling sound of the nearby waterstream was overpowering the powerful of bass of our Bluetooth speaker. It was dense forest around us, but there were two dogs with us all the time. They were just lying beside us and were enjoying the chicken bones. The party went on till late night, then we had our dinner and went back to bed.

Next morning, we had to wake up at 6 am to go on a nearby trek. Britto literally dragged me down out of the bed to wake me up. By 6:30 AM, everyone was all set for the trek. It was 7 km up and down. Though I had done a couple of treks earlier, this was different. Though this was short, but was full of surprises. The route went through the dense forest and to the top of a mountain. There was a butterball there and one could see the surrounding area clearly from up above. The place was a bliss.

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After a tiring, but refreshing trek

We clicked some pics and came back.

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Breakfast was ready by the time we reached the cottage. We packed our bags and did some more shooting before we checked out. The staff member Uday was very courteous. The stay was extremely pleasant.

Jhari Falls:

We then drove to Jhari Falls.which is 48 km away from the homestay and in the same Mulyangiri route. But what we didn’t know that there was a walking distance of around 3km before you reach the waterfall. As it was a Saturday, the waterfall was heavily crowded. This is also called the milky waterfall as the splash of water almost looks white as milk.

Baba Budangiri:

It was just 8 km from Jhari Falls. The weather was cloudy and chilly that day. There is a temple of Baba Budangiri there. There is also a waterfall 3km away and a lake around 4km away from the temple. But as we had less time, we stopped at a nice location, enjoyed the weather a bit and started our return journey.

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A few other points of interest are : Kudremukh, Hebbe Falls etc

It was  a perfect road trip and  a must try with friends if you are nearby Bangalore.

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The Ride, The Riders and the Clicker (Behind the Lense)

Tips:

  • Make sure you don’t have any booze with you when you are going to Mulyangiri. There is a check post before that.
  • On the way to homestay, you’ll find one booze shop at Aldur market and one at Chikmagalur.
  • Take a Bluetooth woofer with you.
  • Take a pair of shoes if you are going for trekking.

 

Reference: Forest Homestay

 


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A Weekend Trek to Ilaka Got via Triund (McLeodganj)

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“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.”            – Cesare Pavese

It’s been quite some time since I had made this trip, but couldn’t have shared the experience. As it is said, “it is never too late”. Last year(2016) when I was at Delhi for my internship, I had utlized 6/8 weekends in exploring the nearby places in and around Delhi. McLeoganj and trek to Ilaka Got via Triund was one of those six trips. The trip was for a span of only two days and it was a solo trip.

  • Duration: 2 days
  • Budget: INR 3500 (Including transport from New Delhi)

How to Reach:

A lot of buses ply to Dharmasala and McLeodganj from ISBT, Delhi. I boarded the Himachal State Transport(HRTC) Volvo AC Bus (these govt. Buses are indeed good !) around 6:15 PM on a Friday evening from ISBT, New Delhi. The ticket price was around INR 700 after applying some discount coupons on Paytm. I met Sam here who was sitting just by my side and was on a world tour. He was going to stay for a month at Mcleodganj and then had plans to explore the North-east region of India. He had just completed his studies and before going into a full-fledged business; he decided to explore the world. The benefit of solo travel is that you get to meet a lot of travellers like this and get to know their motivating story. The bus reached Dharmasala around 6AM and McLeodganj around 6:45 AM.

Trek to Ilaka Got via Triund:

Before setting out, I had carried out a preliminary research on the area and had contacted a tour operator who was organizing trek to Ilaka Got at a cost of INR 2500 per head. But I hadn’t booked any. When I got off at McLeodganj bus stop, I came across a board “Himalayan Treks” (just near the tea shop at McLeodganj bus stop). As it was early morning, there was noone except a local who was sleeping on a bench there. When I talked to him, I got to know that he was  a trek guide(Vijay – +91-7831804538) and he agreed to take me till Ilaka Got(including Food + Accommodation) for just INR 1500. But as I was the only person, he told to wait for some other trekkers till 10 AM and if noone woould turn up, then he agreed to take me only.

I walked towards the market and from there walked down a bit till I found a reasonable hotel. As it was a Saturday, the road was filled with school kids waiting for their pick up bus. A lot of hookers were asking for hotel stay on the way, but I preferred bargaining with the hotel directly and finally fixed a deal of 2 hr stay(for refreshments only) for just a price of INR 200. I took a quick snap and was ready for the exploration around 9 AM. The view from the hotel was refreshing and picturesque. The entire McLeodganj was basking in the golden ray of morning sun.

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I explored the market area, had breakfast and went to the guide around 10:30 AM. On the way, I came across this small, but beautiful temple which is situated within the market area.

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Unfortunately or fortunately, there wasn’t sign of any other trekker. So he agreed to take me alone. I had aimed for Indraahar pass(14765 feet) which was a 5-6 days trek. In two days, it was impossible to cover Indraahar pass. So I settled with Ilaka Got(11800 feet) which is also a 3 day trek. Had I had one more day, I would have gone for Indraahar Pass definitely.  I had to complete it in 2 days due to lack of time. The journey started at 11 AM.

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Drop off till the starting point of trek(Gunadevi Temple) was provided by the tour operator. I had kept all the unnecessary luggage at the tour operator office to increase my walking pace and had taken only the essential ones. The trek to Triund started around 11:30 AM. The path was passing through a thick jungle. The view was getting better with each step. A lot of fellow trekkers were on the same path, a few were just sitting on the lush green grass and were enjoying the picturesque beauty. The path is extremely well-marked and there is no chance of someone getting lost, in case someone is travelling alone. There weren’t much water sources on the way. After around one hour of trek, we reached Magicview cafe from where entire Dharmasala and Kangra valley was visible(including the cricket ground).

We took a short break and continued the journey. The route was filled with rhodendron trees. We reached at Triund(10,000 feet) around 2:15 PM. It started drizzling the moment we reached there. We rushed into one of the Maggie shops there and enjoyed our lunch. Hot Rajma-Chawal and pickle in that chilling weather was a bliss.

The sky got cleared in 15 mins and I went out and explored the vicinity. It was a long stretch of lush green field(bugyal) and the slight pour of rain had made the sky clear. A group of foreigners were playing guitar and enjoying the awesome weather to the fullest. A duo of Belgium beauty were relaxing on a piece of rock in awe of the gigantic snow-clad mountain standing in front of them. A few trekkers were setting up their tents. Tents are available on rent here. The higher you’ll go, the costlier the food will get. A bottle of water was INR 60 here and a plate of Maggie around INR 100.

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Though my heart was saying to stay for a little more time, the mind was against it. We had to reach Ilaka Got before the sun set. So with a heavy heart, we started for Ilaka got. After ascending for around 15 mins, I got a better view of Triund. It was believed that the entire Dharmasala town is built on a pond and any tectonic vibration may result in sinking of the town. Now there is also work in progress to connect a rope-way directly from McLeodganj till Triund. I was doing a two days’ trek in a day. And the path was mostly steep at the beginning. The guide was walking very fast as it was a daily routine for him, but for me it was getting difficult to keep pace with. On top of that, there was hardly any source of water on the way. After an hour of walk, I was so exhausted that I would have slept on the road given the chance. But the path was getting more scenic and greener.

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The last stretch was mostly flat. Then we came across another Maggie point. The shopkeeper seemed to be a friend of the guide. They started chit chatting and a laid down on those lush green grass. Clear blue sky was up above my head and snow-clad Dhauladhar mountain in front of me. The campsite of Ilaka got was visible from here, but there were still miles to go.

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We moved ahead. For the first time, I heard the sound of water stream; but it was way below. The half-rotten body of a horse was laying down below. The guide told that the horse got a heart attack two days back due to overburden of luggage. Once the campsite comes in sight, the distance seems to fade away. Finally, we reached the campsite around 5:30 PM and I took a sigh of relief.

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A group of trekkers were returning from Indraahar pass when we reached Ilaka got. They showed the pictures of Indraahar pass and it was tempting to pay a visit there; but I hardly had time. After a short break, I went out and explored the surrounding. There was still some snow by the side of the camp. There is  a cave named Lahesh cave around 1 hr away from Ilaka got, but the route is treacherous and filled with boulders. So I skipped exploring that as it would be difficult returning to Ilaka got in dark. Moreover, the path is extremely steep and I wasn’t in  a condition to climb till the cave after such a long trek. Once the sun went down the horizon, cold breeze and chillness got a grip over my body.

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But it was time for some fun. We were three there: the guide, the cook and myself. I took out two bottles of beer from my backpack that I had carried all this way for this auspicious moment. I put those into the snow beside the camp and we started to make a campfire. But the wind was so cold that it was hardly bearable to sit outside. So we made the campfire inside the dining tent, yeah not recommended. 15 mins was enough to chill the beers in those super chilled weather. I handed them one and made myself cosy beside the fire. After a while, they both started telling me folk stories of their community and of their locality. The talk went on across a time frame of past, present and future. After an hour or two, we finally decided to have dinner and went to bed. The sky out was crystal clear with millions of stars twinkling to the tune of the universe.

Next morning, I woke up around 7:30 AM, had breakfast and started our return journey. The return journey was pretty smooth and comfortable. We reached Gunadevi temple around 11:30am. The guide dropped me at McLeodganj market around 12 noon.  I had booked JAT MURI ROU Express (18110) from Pathankot railway station which was scheduled at 11;45 PM. Pathankot is the nearest railway station from McLeodganj which is around 90km away. So I decided to explore McLeodganj till evening.

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With my guide (Vijay) at Ilaka Got

Things to Do at Mcleodganj:

I fixed a deal with an auto driver to cover the top tourists places nearby within 4 hours for INR 500.

Church of St. John in Wilderness:

This spooky church is situated just a km away from the McLeodganj bus stop. The building is bit old and stands tall among tall trees. An evening visit to this place will surely tickle your adventurous appetite.

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Dal Lake:

This is not a big lake, but the ambience around the place is serene. You can take  a walk around the lake. There is a temple beside the lake.

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Dalai LamaTemple (Namgyal Monastery):

This is just a stone’s throw away from the market. The place is extremely peaceful and serene. You’ll get to see a lot of Tibetan monks here. Most of the people were engrossed in reading holy books and praying.

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Tibetan Museum:

This is just next to Dalai lama temple. The history of Mcleodganj and Tibet is well-documented here. You’ll get to know all the struggle and war these people have gone through in the past.

Naddi View point:

This is just a few km away from Mcleodganj city. The view of the Kanga valley from here is astounding. Some part of the trail of the trek was also visible from here.

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Bhagsu Waterfall:

Though I couldn’t visit this place due to lack of time and this is one of the top tourists spots at Mcleodganj.

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PC: Flickr / Anamika Baghel

Mcleodganj is an awesome place to get some fresh air from the hustle bustle and boredom of life. A lot of foreigners come and stay here for a month and more. The place is lively and refreshing. Hope I will have to pay another visit to this awesome place to complete the unfinished activity of Indraahar pass trek. See you soon Mcleodganj !

 


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Mahabalipuram : An Archaeological Brilliance !

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“For me archaeology is not a source of illustrations for written texts, but an independent source of historical information, with no less value and importance, sometimes more importance, that the written sources.” ― Michael Rostovtzeff

Mahabalipuram is one of the best weekend getaways from Chennai, of course after Pondicherry. But it is perfect for a single day outing. It is situated just around 60km away from Chennai and is famous for its archaeological brilliance. It’s also known as Mamallapuram, so don’t get confused.

How to Reach:

Bike:

If you have got a bike, then you shouldn’t worry about the transport part at all. If not, you can rent one. There are plenty of options available at Chennai (Chennaibikerental, Rentrip, Wheelonstreet etc.) . An Avenger will cost you around INR 750 per day and a RE around INR 1000. The road is best for a bike trip spread alongside the Bay of Bengal (East Coast Road). The road runs parallel to the coast of Bay of Bengal making it a scenic driveway, although you will not see the sea until the last few miles.

Car:

If you have access to a car, that’s ice on cake. This route is part of the road to Pondicherry which is listed as Top 10 road trips to take in India. Car rentals (Zoomcar/Myles) are also available at Chennai. You can also go for a cab or Ola/Uber outstation.

Bus:

The cheapest way to travel is by bus. A lot of private buses or MTC buses ply to Mahabalipuram(Mamallapuram). You can catch one from CMBT bus stop(Z568C route) or from Adyar(Bus no 599, 588, 589). I took the MTC Bus-599 and it took my around one and half hour to reach there, but the cost was just INR 30 🙂

There are a few options on the way to Mahabalipuram; like Crocodile Park, off-road riding, Tiger cave. If you are taking the bus option, you might have to miss this. If you’re boarding the bus at Adyar and planning to have lunch, then Top See Restaurant is a good budget hotel.

Things to Do:

Shore Temple:

(Entry fee INR 30 for Indians)

The temple is located just a stone’s throw away from the bus stop and just by the side of the coromandel coast. A pile of rocks has been put to protect the temple against the waves of the Bay of Bengal. The place is full of archaeological marvelous and lush greenery. One could just sit on that lush green grass and behold the architectural beauty for hours.  It is an excellent spot to try out some photography skills.

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The Shore Temple

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Beach:

The beach area though is not huge, but always adds flavor to the trip. A lot of handicraft and other small shops can be found on the way to the beach. The part of the beach near those rocks is somewhat clean, the further you go, the dirtier it gets. A lot of beach resorts are also there. If you’re planning for a night stay, then there are plenty of options.

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Pancha Rathas:

(Entry fee INR 30 for Indians, INR 25 for Videocam)

This is the 2nd best archaeological marvelous at Mahaballipuram or may be the best. There are five(Pancha) stone chariots(Rathas); each of different size and architectural magnificence. Again a heaven for a photographer.  It is just 1km away from the Shore temple.

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Light House:

(Entry fee INR 10 for Indians, INR 30 for Camera)

There are two light houses: one that used to be, one that is. The view from the light house is breathtaking, but you’ll have to climb all those narrow stairs to the top. If anyone likes rock climbing, then it is a heaven for him/her. There are so many climbable rocks here that you just can jump n hop around.  There are a lot of options to hang out here, you just need to explore.

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Towards the end of the day, dark clouds started hovering across the blue sky and it started raining. That just made the trip splendidly beautiful when the dust on greenery washed away.

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Krishna’s Butterball:

It is a gigantic rock stock to the hill. It seems as if just one push will make it roll. An awesome spot for some creative photography.

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Arjuna’s penance and Tiger cave are a few other interest points.

People here are great with stone carving and making stone sculptures. By the side of the road from Pancha Rathas to Lighthouse, you’ll see a number of sculptures and show-pieces.

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Four to five hours is enough to explore the surroundings. The entry to lighthouse closes around 5:30 PM, so plan accordingly. I embarked upon the same bus at around 6 PM for my journey back to Chennai and reached Adyar in 2 hrs.


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Jodhpur: The Blue City

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“Travel does what good novelists also do to the life of everyday, placing it like a picture in a frame or a gem in its setting, so that the intrinsic qualities are made more clear. Travel does this with the very stuff that everyday life is made of, giving to it the sharp contour and meaning of art.” – Freya Stark

This was my first visit to Rajasthan to attend the marriage ceremony of a close friend. I had travelled directly after Everest base camp trek to here. Pali was the actual destination I was travelling to, but I was expected to meet my other friends here at Jodhpur and to move together to Pali the next morning. I reached here after travelling by train for 3 continuous days: Kathmandu to Birganj by Bus, Raxaul to Delhi and Delhi to Jodhpur by train (12461-Mandor Express). I arrived at the sun-city in early morning and my friends were expected to reach in the evening. So in-stead of going to the hotel, I decided to explore the city for the day. I had kept the extra luggage at NDLS cloak room as I had to catch my return train from there only. Travelling light actually helps a lot. I bargained with an Autowala to cover the famous tourist spots of Jodhpur and finally settled for INR 500. And then the solo exploration began in an auto…

Mehrangarh Fort:

This was the first destinations in my list. The grandeur of the fort could be seen from far away. The fort is well maintained and guarded. A lot of locals have got employment inside the fort. There were a few playing instruments, singing Rajasthani folk songs making the dull atmosphere lively and energizing. The entry fee for Indian tourists is INR 70 excluding camera pass. Audio guide is also available on chargeable basis. Inside the fort, all the historical pieces are well organized for display with its details written by its side. The lavishness and luxury of the royal family can only be believed when seen in own eyes. From the top of the fort, the entire Jodhpur can be seen. Flying fox and a few other adventure activities can also be experienced at the fort. There is also a Chamunda mata temple at the fort.

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Sheesh Mahal

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Moti Mahal

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Phool Mahal

Jaswant Thada:

It is located just beside Mehrangarh fort. There is a small lake and well maintained garden. The well designed white structure stands out  among those green lines.

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Umaid Bhawan Palace:

It also can be seen from the top of Mehrangarh fort. Only a small part of the palace(left side) is open for tourists and the rest has been turned into a hotel. There are also a few parks at Jodhpur: Mandore garden, Machiya safari park, Rock park etc. I skipped those due to lack of time.

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Ghanta Ghar (Sardar Market):

I had booked my hotel just a stone’s throw away from Ghanta ghar due to the proximity to market and Mehrangarh fort. The Ghanta Ghar is located at the center of the market. There is a famous lassi shop(Shri Mishrilal) in the market and another good one just in front of clock tower near the main gate. I tried 3-4 varieties of Lassi: Makhaniya Lassi(Must try), Mango Lassi, Chocolate Lassi etc. Just outside of the inner main gate, there is a famous Omelet shop. Do try Masala cheese bread omelette and other Omelettes there. The shop is a tiny one and there is no space to even sit, but the omelette is a must try.

I was staying at Hotel Blue Turban, the location was awesome. The proximity to the market and Mehrangarh fort was such that I could see Mehrangarh Fort, Jaswant Thada, Ghanta Ghar(Clock Tower) from its rooftop. Did I mention, there was a well-designed rooftop bar from where one can see the lighted Mehrangarh fort. Just imagine…  dim lanterns hanging on an open rooftop and  trying hard to do away with the darkness, blow of gentle cool breeze soothing you and you sitting there with a can of chilled beer in front of the magnanimous Mehrangarh fort just wondering… how ? when ? why ?  someone would have created such a gargantuan fort ? The cannons(topes) could clearly be seen on the top of that enormous wall-line.  If you ever happen to visit to Jodhpur, do try this experience(PS: The fort is lighted till 10 PM). I bet the philosopher in you won’t be able to hold it back any longer.

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PS: On the way from Jodhpur to Pali, I came across the Bullet Baba Temple. The people here vehemently belief him. There is in interesting (or rather sad) story behind this temple also. Do google about it.


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Pondicherry: A refreshing weekend getaway

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“Live in the sunshine, Swim in the sea, Drink the wild air !” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

My recent relocation to Chennai might give me the opportunity to explore the south, in a thorough manner. What better place can there be to start the journey than Pondicherry (Puducherry). Earlier I had been to south just once covering Cochin – Munnar – Alleppy – Kanyakumari – Rameswaram. There is a lot more to explore here. This was a short trip to the colorful city of beach, booze and bread !

How to reach Pondicherry (from Chennai):

There are various ways available to reach this lively destination. Some significant ways are cab or rented bikes. This is one of the top routes in India for road trip as the highway just runs by the side of the east coast(ECR). We were a group of six friends : Arpit, Prabina, Abhishek, Britto, Navya and myself. Britto being a localite took the charge and planned it. Here as language is a little barrier, so having a localite by your side can save much hassle. A lot of govt/private AC/Non-AC buses ply to Pondicherry. We had to catch a bus from Koyembeddu bus stop, but by mistake we(Arpit & Me) entered a wrong bus-stop in Uber that left us around 3km away from the actual bus-stop. And the bus was just about to leave. As a result, we could have been found running in and out Koyembeddu bus stop with a pic of bus’s number(TN01-AN1539 – see I still remember :p) in our hand. Finally, we boarded the AC govt. bus (fare INR 170 per head) from CMBT bus stop around 7 AM and reached Pondicherry around 10AM.

Bikes : best way to explore Pondicherry

We then directly moved to a bike rental provider(Vijat Arya 2 wheeler rental service) nearby. The owner briefed us on the sightseeing options there at Pondicherry, famous food joints to try out and basic traffic rules. We were reminded to be careful of the one-way routes there. The charge was around INR 400 per day per bike(Activa/Vespa) with min 2 days hire. We moved to our hotel(Hotel Corbelli, located around central market) and after a short refreshment , the journey started.

Paradise Beach:

Paradise beach was our first destination which is the top tourist spot at Puducherry. The last mile to Paradise is to be travelled by boat (to-fro ticket price INR 200 pax).

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One can travel there between 9AM – 5PM as the last boat leaves at 5PM. We reached Paradise beach around noon and the sun was at its peak.

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The sands on the beach had absorbed enough heat by then to roast our foot. Without any further delay, we jumped into the waving water of Bay of Bengal. The beach was extremely clean and well-maintained, but there was nothing available except coconut water 😦 After some 2 hours of gruesome face-to-face with the salty tides, we decided to return. The pointed shells on the beach had injured all of us by then in some way or other.

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After this salty bath, there is a rain-dance facility also available to refresh at a cost of INR 50. Then we returned by boat to the entry point.

At this point, there was just one thing in everyone’s mind : Food. We went to ‘Hot Breads’which was just beside our hotel and had a sumptuous meal of Pizza & Pasta. The food was good and cheap (as tax levied).

Rock Beach:

After a short rest at our room, we moved to Rock beach through the French colony which was just 1km away. The place is well-structured and maintained. This was an Indianized version of Dubai’s famous JBR(Jumeirah beach walk). The road was broad and only walkers were allowed after 5PM. One can sit there on those rocks and watch the sea splashing onto those black rocks leaving a few droplets on your face. The atmosphere there was just serene. There is a small fast-food market there just near the statue of Mahatma Gandhi. We tried some Masala Pani Poori, Chat and some fruit salad out of the vast options available there. There is a café (Le Café) just by the sea-side which remains open(not in reality) for 24 hours. A nice place to try some french drinks, coffees or shakes. After chilling there for some more time, we returned to the hotel. The dinner party went on till 2AM at our room and everyone except two went to bed shortly. Prabina and I decided to pay a visit to the Rock beach.

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The beach was deserted, a but a few group were there; some sitting & gossiping, some lying just in wait of the sunrise and a few other in their deep sleep on the benches. The atmosphere couldn’t be explained in words, but can only be experienced: the tune of gushing sea water doing away with the quietness of the surrounding. After enjoying the soft breeze to the core of our heart, we returned to hotel with a hope of getting a glimpse of the sunrise next morning.

Auroville:

I guess that was some high hope :p We woke up around 9AM in the morning. We moved to Shri Aurobindo Ashram first. Then we moved to Auroville. It is a whole world in itself. After watching the short video, we walked till Auroville view point and clicked some pics.

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Shri Aurobindo Ashram

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Auroville

There was a lake around 8km away. We had planned to cover that too. The last 2km was a real pain. With road work under progress, there were only boulder s on the road. But after this when we reached the lake, it was disappointing. It was like a left-out lake due to lack of maintenance.

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We rode back to main city. After enquiring, we got to know there was just one AC bus yet to leave, but all the seats were already booked. The cab was too costly for a one way ride. There were some private AC buses in the evening, but the price was nearly 3 times. Luckily, we came across a bus which had come from Dingul and was on its way to Chennai. Three went to book the seats and the rest went to return the bikes. To utter dismay, the lock of the bikes was found stuck and couldn’t be opened. There were a wallet and some luggage in that. As it was a Sunday, so the repairing shops were also closed. We were running out of time. The bus was about to leave in 10 mins(at 3PM) and there we were, stuck with a lock. Then in desperation, we pulled the seat up and Britto slipped his hands into it and dragged the wallet and other stuffs out. The rental operator was kind enough not to charge for that. We literally run to the bus stop where the bus was on the verge of leaving. Some were even limping with their injured legs. With the grace of Almighty, We boarded the bus at the eleventh hour and that was the end of this awesome and happening journey.

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The Group

Some Other Sightseeing Options:

  • Basilica Church
  • Immaculate Conception Cathedral
  • Arikmedu
  • Museum
  • French War Memorial

Some food joints to try:

  • Café Xtecy – for wood fired Pizza
  • Le café- for some soft drinks
  • Hot Breads- for authenticate French bread, Pizza & Pasta

PS: And there is one thing very cheap at Pondicherry, need I mention: p

Tips:

  • Protect your foot at Paradise beach from the sharp shells. If possible, take some band-aid’s with you.
  • Booze is not available at Paradise beach anymore, neither you are allowed to take any. Plan accordingly.
  • Be careful of the one-way routes and don’t park your vehicle near Rock beach side after 5PM.
  • Take a soap/Shampoo to paradise beach if you are planning to take a dip in the water.
  • For rented bikes, go to Vijay Arya if you haven’t researched properly.
  • To visit the inner sanctum of Auroville, apply for pass prior to 2-3 days of the visiting day.

 


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Everest Base Camp Trek in 30 Photos !

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#01 The journey starts with a flight from Kathmandu to Lukla.  The weather at Lukla is extremely unpredictable and volatile. I had to wait for four days to reach Lukla due to bad weather. Most of the aircrafts are 16 seater, you can literally watch the pilots controlling this complicated machinery  if sitting  at front row. It’s preferable to sit at left side to get a glance of the Himalayas. The thrill while landing at Lukla can’t be explained in words, but can only be experienced.

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#02 Lukla Tenzing – Hillary Airport (2860 m). Lukla is one of the most dangerous and deadliest airport in the world with a very short airstrip abruptly ending to the valleys.

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#03 Prayer wheels en-route Lukla – Phakding. You’ll come across a few small villages and chortans during this 3 hr journey.

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#04 A suspension bridge en-route Lukla-Phakding. There are total seven suspension bridges in EBC route.

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#05 Phakding (2651 m) First stop in EBC trek.

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#06 A small village en-route Phakding – Namche Bazaar. This is the toughest of all with steep ascent most of the route.

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#07 Lunch point ! EBC route is extremely commercialized with tea-houses, lodges and restaurants throughout the way. Dal-bhat is one of the most common food item. Wi-fi is available at most of these restaurants on chargeable basis.

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#08 After this point, there is steep ascent till Namche Bazaar. You need to move onto the next mountain through the upper suspension bridge. Crossing the bridge was an amazing experience in itself.

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#09 Namche Bazaar (3438 m), second stop in EBC trek. Most of the trekkers stay here one day for acclimatization.

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#10 First glimpse of Mt. Everest and Ama Dablam. Trekkers climb till Everest view lodge for a better view.

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#11 Namche Bazaar market. This is the last major market in EBC route. All trekking gears can be found here, but with a higher price tag.

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#12 A Chortan en-route Namche Bazaar – Tengbonche

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#13 The Split ! One to Gokyo-Ri and the other to Tengbonche. EBC through Gokyo-Ri is a more difficult, but scenic trek.

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#14 Tengbonche (3870 m), third stop in EBC trek. There is a monastery of Lord Rinpoche. To the right, there is a small hike to get a better view.

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#15 View from Tengbonche

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#16 Sun-set view of Ama Dablam(6812 m). Though it is around 2000m shorter than Mt. Everest, but it is lot more difficult to climb due to its steep ascent and treacherous trail.

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#17 The landscape takes a drastic change after Somaroi and the height of trees get reduced to shrubs. It looks like green patches.

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#18 A mesmerizing view en-route Tengbonche – Dingboche.

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#19 Dingboche (4360 m), fourth stop in EBC trek. Most trekkers stay here one day for acclimatization and either hike till Nagarjuna Peak or till Ama Dablam base camp.

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#20 Nagarjuna Peak (5088 m) This is a 2.5 hr hike from Dingboche. Ama dablam, Lhotse, Peak 38 can be seen from here.

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#21 View of Ama Dablam from Nagarjuna Peak.

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#22 Valley to the left (way to Pheriche) en-route Dingboche – Lobuche.

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#23 Lobuche (4940 m), fifth stop in EBC trek. Mt. Pumouri can be seen in the background.

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#24 Gorakshep (5170 m), the last stop in EBC trek. The no. of lodges is very limited here.

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#25 Kala pathar (5545 m), a 2 hr hike from Gorakshep. It’s around 700 ft higher in altitude than EBC. The route is extremely steep, rocky and windy. One can see the best view of Mt. Everest, EBC, Everest summit last trail, Lhotse and Mt. Pumouri from its peak on a clear sunny day.

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#26 View of Everest Base camp, Mt. Everest, Khumbu Glacier from Kala Patthar peak.

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#27 South-side view from Kala Patthar peak.

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#28 Everest Base Camp (5364 m), the Final Destination.

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#29 A close-look of Everest base camp and Khumbu glacier.

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#30 The prayer flags, the devotee and the mountain (EBC). Smell of accomplishment and sweetness of satisfaction was in the air.


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Kathmandu(Nepal): A trekker’s paradise !

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“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.”        ― Jawaharlal Nehru

Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal, is the gateway to a no. of famous beautiful Himalayan treks like Everest Summit, Everest Base Camp, Annapurna Base Camp etc. The glory of Mt. Everest attracts thousands of trekkers each year. The city is flooded with trekkers’ lodge and trekking accessories shops. In my recent trek to Everest Base Camp, I had the opportunity to explore this beautiful city. Here is all that you need to know if Kathmandu is in your travel-list.

Permits & Visa:

For Indian nationals, there is no need of Visa. But for treks, one need to get the permit. One need to carry any Id proof : Passport / Voter ID/ Aadhar ID/ DL. But taking the passport or any other ID with a photocopy of Passport will do in most of the cases. To get a mobile sim there, the photocopy of Passport is required(Some shops don’t accept Voter ID). There is a nominal permit fee of NC 300 (1 IC = 1.6 NC) for base camp treks. Nepal govt. maintains a TIMS(Trekkers’ Information Management System) for all the trekkers. Registration card is of two type: GT(Group Trekker /Blue Strip) & FIT(Free Individual Trekker / Red strip)  For Everest Summit trek, the Nepal govt. collects an amount of $11,000 per person. More than 5,000 climbers have scaled Everest since it was first climbed by New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay in 1953 and nearly 310 have died trying.

How to reach:

Air: Directly from Delhi to Kathmandu

Train and Bus:

  • Till Raxaul: (From Howrah)
    • Train No 13043 – Howrah – Raxaul Express (D: 10:50 PM, A: 3:45 PM)
    • Train No 13021 – Mithila Express (D: 3:45 PM, A: 8:25 AM)
  • Raxaul to Birganj: By Rickshaw/Auto (30 mins) [bad road, heavy traffic]
  • Birganj to Kathmandu: By Bus (AC Deluxe – NC 800)
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Raxaul – Birganj Border Gate

Where to stay:

Thamel area is the most happening area in Kathmandu. There are various trekkers’ lodges, hostels and budget stays available there. One can stay with just NC 350 per day. Alobar1000 and Thamel 327 are two hostels owned by Mr. Tashi. He also owns DalBhatPower, a trek organizing unit. The atmosphere at Alobar1000 is bit chilled and its rooftop is one of the best hangout place, but the rooms are average.

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Alobar1000 Hostel

Thamel 327 is bit sophisticated and with lot of restrictions, but rooms are good. There are a lot of other options to explore.

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Thamel 327 Hostel

Where to eat:

There are plenty of options in Indian and Nepalese. In Thamel, though the food is bit costly than the other areas, but quality is good. You can walk down till market lane where you’ll come across lot of cafes and restaurants. Chicken Cheese Sandwich is one must try at Burger point. For good budget Indian food, you may pay a visit to Western Tandoori. It may look bit shady, but the food is awesome there. While in Nepal, also give it a try to their local food: Thakali (Indian version of Thali, but with more options).

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Thakali (Source: EverestDine, Google)

What to See:

Bouddhanath Stupa: One of the holy places at Kathmandu with a temple of Lord Rinpoche.  The atmosphere and the chants at the temple is very soothing and peaceful.

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Some Facts and Figures

Swayambhunath Temple / Monkey Temple: It is also known as Monkey Temple due to huge no. of monkeys residing there. One need to climb around 365 steps to reach to the top of the temple. But once you reach there, you can see the entire Kathmandu City. A visit in the evening is most rewarding. One can see the city lights getting on one by one from the top and the chill of cool breeze getting smashed on your face. There is a wish-pot there also. You need to throw a coin into the pot to make your wish come true., well that’s what they believe.

Pashupatinath Temple: It is the most sacred place in Nepal. Like Jagannath Temple in India, Pashupatinath temple in Nepal is belived to be the holiest place. Apart from the main shrine of Lord Pashupatinath, there are various small temples in it. Photography is strictly prohibited inside the temple premises.

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Pashupatinath Temple

Durbar Square / Palace: It is just a 20 mins walk from Thamel market.

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Durbar Palace (Source:Flickr, Francisco Anzola)

Thamel Market: It is the best place to buy adventure or trekking accessories. The North Face jackets are really cheap there. A few bike rental shops are also there.

Other sightseeing options:

Kopan monastery, Dakshinakali temple, Buddha Nilakantha temple, Hanuman Dhoka, Bhaktapur, Pokhran Lake

Night Life: Thamel area is flooded with pubs and bars. Nightlife at Kathmandu is equally glamorous as the treks. With so many tourists in the city, the pubs are always crowded. After a tedious mountain climb/trek, pubs are the favorites of trekkers for celebration. Purple Haze and Shisha are nice options. One must try Gorkha beer and Everest beer while at Nepal.

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Adventure Options:

River Rafting: There are many options for river rafting: Trishuli River, Seti River , Bhote Koshi River, Kali Gandaki River, Marsyandi River, Sun Koshi River.

Bungy Jumping: Bungy jumping is offered by The Last Resort. The price is around NC 7500 for Indian nationals. It is the 2nd highest bungy jump in the world with a height of around 160 m.

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Bungy Jumping Pricing

The details of a few treks:

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During my stay at Kathmandu, I also got a glimpse of 7th Nepal Tattoo Convention( 31st March – 2nd April, at Heritage garden, Sanepa) where hundred of tattoo artists from various counties had participated. I also happened to witness the Nepalese New Year ( 14 April) when the entire Thamel turned into a live pub !

Contact No for Bus Booking: (Sapna Travels) /Mentioned only for reference

  • Birganj to Kathmandu – 051 – 521382, 051-530365
  • Kathmandu to Birganj – 9851181638, 9851159009