Visit Ladakh – nothing can substitute the experience

Travelling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a story teller.  – Ibn Batuta

 

Leh must be visited once in your lifetime! This is something which I have heard about Leh often. Majestic, grand, surreal and many other adjectives adorned the speech of anyone who has visited Leh. So finally an impromptu decision brought us to Leh and then began another love saga!!

Nestled between the Himalayan, Zanskar and the Karakoram ranges, Leh is not a place for the faint hearts. It stands at a height of 10000 to 15000 feet above the sea level and records extreme temperatures between 30 degrees to -30 degrees. Leh is accessible by roads only during a certain time period (usually from June to September) when the Manali – Leh and Srinagar-Leh highways are not blocked by snow.

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The colourful Leh Market

Leh is a place which is a treat for your senses. The place has adventure written all over it. The experience of visiting Leh has been unique and unforgettable. There are numerous things to do in Leh – visiting monasteries, trekking, bike trip among others. In this post I present the best of Leh.

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The local crafts to Leh

# 1. The Leh town

A quaint and colorful town – Leh is like a picture postcard. The mornings are bustling with activities. The adventure shops all geared up for all the adventure seekers. The market place of Leh is vibrant and colorful with apparels, handicrafts and fruits and vegetables. A perfect place to use the five senses.

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Ariel view of Leh town from Leh Palace

# 2. The vivid and variety landscapes

Leh boasts of a variety of landscapes. The rugged mountains suddenly give in to green vegetation. The ecosystem is fragile and soil erosion has produced some remarkably wonderful sculptures. The mountains, roads and the landscapes all make a heady cocktail!

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Landscapes of Leh

# 3. The layers of mountains

Yes, you actually see layers of them – green, brown, yellow in all its splendour. Travelling within the lap of the mountains is surely an experience to cherish.

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Road through the mountains

# 4. The peace and solitude at the monasteries

You had all your adventures, been through the adrenaline rush… now feel the peace and serenity of the monasteries that Leh has to offer. The monasteries are mostly situated at the hill tops away from the town – a perfect place for solitude. The splendor of the Hemis Monastery or the simplicity of Alchi monastery or the sheer architecture of the Spituk monastery is sure to stir the spirituality in you.

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Likir Monastery

# 5. A night by the blue Pangong

A picturesque lake straight out of a dreamland! The blue sky meets the blue waters and your time will fly in a jiffy watching them. And as the sun sets the colour of the lake changes from blue to green to grey. Stay by the lake at the tents and enjoy a campfire. See the early morning rays falling on the lake, see the white Brahmani ducks and enjoy the nature to the fullest.

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Pangong Tso

# 6. Cannot get enough of blue! Visit the Tso Moriri

Another beauty of Leh is the Tso Moriri. You will certainly get mesmerized seeing the endless, vast and crystal clear waters of Tso Moriri. Situated at Rupsu Valley, it is the best place to relax and watch the rich wildlife.

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Tso Morori Image Courtesy: Subhadip C Photography Unlimited

# 7. Travelling through the highest motorable pass – Khardung La

Khardung La boasts of being the highest motorable pass which has to be crossed while going to the Nubra Valley. At 18000 feet, it has an army outpost which provides hot tea and Maggi to the tourists. Khardung La has very less vegetation and the weather is quite unpredictable. Experiencing a snowfall at Khardung La is an added bonus.

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Khardung La on the way to Nubra Valley

# 8. Traversing the cold desert by a Bactrian camel

The snow clad mountains at a distance and the sand deserts at your side. That is Nubra Valley for you – one of world’s cold deserts. To complete the desert safari, the rare Bactrian camel or two humped camels are present. Ever wondered how sand reached at such high altitude?

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Bactrian camel safari at Hunder, Nubra Valley

# 9. Your rendezvous with the past and present….

The Diskit monastery at the Nubra Valley provides a perfect example. The old Diskit monastery stands atop a hill overlooking the Shyok river was built at around 14th century.

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Distik Monastery, Nubra Valley

And just facing the age old structure is the giant 32 metre (106 feet) statue of Maitreya Buddha standing. The statue was consecrated on 2010.

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Gian 230 feet Maitrya Buddha statue at Nubra Valley

# 10. The epic journey from Leh to Manali

Your visit to Leh is not complete if you haven’t taken the Leh-Manali Highway. It crosses few of world’s highest passes. The road is treacherous yet annoyingly beautiful. The trans Himalayan journey covers the rugged landscape of Leh following the stark Sarchu and ends in luscious greenery of Manali. 

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Jorney from Leh to Manali is full of surprising twists

#11. See the marmots cuddling

The Himalayan marmots are abundant in Leh. These are very cute and friendly creatures. You can even see them cuddling.

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The cute Marmots

# 12. And for the adventure lovers…

There are various trekking routes, biking expeditions, water rafting at the Indus-Zanskar rivers. Leh has all the ingredients to fulfill your lust for adventure.

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Leh- a perfect place to quench your thirst for adventure

So, do not not postpone your plan to visit Leh. For any queries and information, please feel free to contact us.

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At Shanti Stupa, Leh

Kalapaani – Cellular Jail, Port Blair, A & N Island

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Kalapani

My first introduction to the life of Indian freedom fighters was through stories told by my uncle during my childhood. Gradually, I came to know more about them through our history text books. Bollywood movies too played a major part. It always intrigued me how could these people undergo such torture and sufferings. How could one undergo such pain and sacrifice? I had often made up images in my mind about the way the freedom fighters lived, worked and inspired others by their own sacrifice. I finally had a tryst with the picture I had painted about them on February 2015 when I visited the Cellular Jail or Kalapaani at Port Blair in Andamans.

Model of Cellular Jail Complex
Model of Cellular Jail Complex

The Cellular Jail stood in sprawling complex beside the sea. It was supposed to be the prison where the British Government sent the most hardened criminals. It was considered to be a pilgrimage to the Indian freedom fighters. The Jail is symbolic of all the hardships and indignities faced by the Indians under their colonial rulers as well as their indomitable spirit and zeal to attain freedom from colonial oppression. The Jail became infamous for the inhuman treatment meted out to the inmates by the Jail officials. The Jail building now bears the mark of all the tortures faced by the Indian freedom fighters and the Peepal tree at the entrance of the Jail is the silent observer of all the atrocities.

Cellular Jail - Kalapani
The wings are clearly view ed from the watch tower

The cellular jail was built through 1896 to 1906. The jail was built by the convicts themselves and it took about Five lacs rupees to built the structure which is a blot on the face of humanity. The Jail had seven wings like the spokes of wheel with a central watch tower. The tower was so places that a single guard could watch over all the seven wings. The different wings were so positioned that front of one row of cells faced the back of another row of cells. This resulted in complete absence of communication between the inmates. Another novel idea of the Jailor to break the morale of the inmates!

Prison Cells – Cellular Jail
Prison Cells – Cellular Jail

Each cell was measured 12 ft. by 7 ft. and had a grill iron door which was locked from outside by a sturdy iron bolt and lock some distance away from the door. In this way, the prisoners could not tamper with the cell locks. The prisoners ate their food in their calls which were passed through a trap door. There was another pot which was used by the prisoners for urine and stool in their cells. The prisoners ate, slept, lamented, wept and thought of their freedom in those dingy and dirty cells. Their screams of pain and languish were drowned in their own sweat and blood and the stench of excreta.

Stamp commemorating the Cellular Jail
Stamp commemorating the Cellular Jail

In the jail, the prisoners were made to grind oil. The quantity of work they were given were not humanly possible. On failure to do their quota of job, the prisoners were severely punished. Punishment included flagellation, whipping, handcuffs and bar fetters on them. Solitary confinement was the extreme form of punishment. They were humiliated by the jailors at every point. The prisoners underwent these unthinkable abasement and punishment, but they did not give in. Some of them lost their mind, while some others their life.

Watch Tower
Watch Tower

The story about the freedom fighters are brought alive by the “Light and Sound” show held every evening. After watching the show, there was a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.

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Light & Sound Show in the evening

From the terrace of the Cellular Jail the beautiful view of the Ross Island among the clear blue seas can be seen. Standing there I just thought about the stark differences this place held. The surroundings were so beautiful; nature has been bountiful and gracious. But the Cellular Jail or Kalapani is a symbol of highest atrocities and indignities showered on fellow human beings.

View of Ross island from the terrace of Cellular Jail
View of Ross island from the terrace of Cellular Jail

The visit to the Cellular Jail was an eye opener. It actually made me realize the pain and sufferings our freedom fighters had to undergo to give us the freedom which we hardly value today! Cellular jail should be visited by every Indians at least once in their lifetime to know that freedom was so hardly earned!

The main entrance of Cellular Jail
The main entrance of Cellular Jail

 

The Pilgrimage – Amarnath Yatra

Amarnath is one of the holiest shrines of Lord Shiva. So before venturing in the Amarnath Yatra, I just thought to share the beautiful legend behind it.

Lord Shiva, the immortal hero was asked by his wife Parvati why he wears a garland of human heads. To this he replies that every time Parvati dies, he adds a head to his garland and it continues to increase. Parvati then wanted to know the secret of immortality (Amar Katha) so that she could be with her hero forever. Though Lord Shiva was reluctant to divulge the immortal secret of the universe, he had to give in to his wife’s incessant wish to know the secret. So he chooses a safe place which is away from humanity and life. On his way, he lets go of all his companions one by one – he leaves his ride Nandi, the Bull at Pahalgam. At Chandanwari, he lets go of the crescent adorning his hair, the snakes at Seshnag, the five elements at Panchatarni and finally his son Ganesha at Mahagunas Top to finally reach the secluded cave. Lord Shiva before narrating the Amar Katha to Goddess Parvati in this cave ensured that there are no living beings in the cave. Inspite of that, 2 white pigeons somehow managed to listen to the tale of immortality. It is said that even today those 2 pigeons are seen on top of the Holy cave. So runs the legend of Amarnath. The cave where Lord Shiva narrated the secret of immortality to Parvati is the place which is considered a sacred place to thousands of pilgrims visiting every year.

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The Yatris

We had always heard about the beauty of Amarnath trek route. Though not very religiously inclined, we decided to go for the trek. Also the prospect of experiencing trek with so many people excited us. From 2014 onwards, Amarnath Yatris had to undergo compulsory medical examinations and obtain medical certificates. After obtaining all the necessary requirements we were off to visit the shrine.

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The beautiful Lidder River

Pahalgam, the starting point of the Amanath Yatra was full of people. The morning greeted us with gurgling sound of the Lidder river and a clear blue sky. Pahalgam was busy with hundreds of people waiting to start for the Yatra. Like others, we took a car to Chandanwari, from where the Yatra begins.

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At Chandanwari

Chandanwari provided a totally chaotic picture with thousands of people gearing to start the Yatra. For some, it was a dream coming true. The devotees of Lord Shiva started the yatra with hope in their hearts and gleam in their eyes. And then there were horses around with their owners urging us to hire the horses for the journey to the cave. 

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At Chandanwari

As we reached the starting point, there were bhandaras or langars or community kitchens which provided food to the yatris for free. Throughout the trek, we did not have to think about our stomach urges. Whenever we were hungry, there seemed to be a Bhandara nearby with such a variety of food that could even put some restaurants to shame! Vegetarian items like rice, roti, curries, idli, dosas and even chowmein were available. And while we were leaving the bhandaras after filling our empty stomach, dry fruits and chocolates were given in our hands for the way.   

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Bhandaras at Amarnath

The trek started from Chandanwari with the Lidder river beside us. The first 5 kilometers of the trek was a strenuous. It was a steep climb up to Pissu top.

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Pissu Top

But once we reached Pissu top, all our tiredness simply vanished. Beautiful, mesmerizing are understatements to describe the landscape. Our stop for the night was at Seshnag.

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Emerald waters of Seshnag

In between, the trek was relatively easier with some flat walks and meadows. Seshnag greeted us with a beautiful emerald green lake. There were camps nearby where we halted for the night. The next day greeted us with snow on the Seshnag mountains. Full of energy, we started for the day’s trek. On the second day, we had to cross the Mahagunas Pass at 14500 ft.

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On the way to Mahagunas Pass

As we gained height, the greenery of the previous day gradually diminished and the landscape became barren and brown and lifeless. After a steep climb to Mahagunas Pass, there was a descent and a walk through the meadows. After a trek of 5 km we were greeted with the sight of colourful tents of Panchtarni campsite.

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Panchatarni – confluence of five rivers

Panchtarni is the confluence of 5 rivers surrounded by the mountains. The serenity of the place is such that even amidst so many people, we felt calm. We decided against staying at Panchtarni and forwarded towards the cave. Panchtarni to the holy cave is another 6 km. The first kilometers was a rocky trail followed by a steep climb of 2 kilometers and then level walks. We reached the Amarnath campsite at around 5 pm.

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Flowing river through the glacier

The place was a colourful riot with shops, tents and bhandaras all around. We were spoilt for choices! These shops were temporary and were built on thick layer of ice. At many places the river comes out in the open and again enters the glacier.

Amarnath Yatra
The Holy Amarnath cave – Amarnath Yatra

The locals have set up shops where you can find delicacies of Kashmir like saffron, almonds and apricots. There were Sadhus all around telling stories about anything and everything. The place looked no less than a local bazaar. The way to the cave was through a climb of stairs.  Photography was not permitted inside the cave. We went inside the cave and had a glimpse at the legendary Shivling, an ice stalactite grown naturally every year at that time.

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At Amarnath

We returned through the shorter route via Baltal. It is a 14 Km trek downhill and can be covered in a day.  Though the landscape is quite beautiful, it falls short off the route through Chandanwari. So while going to the cave, we would suggest to take the Chandanwari route. In this way, you will be able to understand the legend of Amanath Cave as well as assimilate beauty of the route.

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Pilgrimage on palanquin – Amarnath Yatra

Doing the Amarnath Yatra trek was definitely a wonderful experience. We were no doubt enthralled by the scenic beauty of the place, but in this trek, we met different people which made a lasting impression on us. There were people of different ages and backgrounds. There were first timers as well as people who come back to do this Yatra every year. There were aged people and even handicapped people. They were full of hope and enthusiasm doing the Yatra to seek blessings from God. They completed the Yatra just on the strength of their faith. There were on the true pilgrimage.

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On his pilgrimage

 We met a family who comes to Amarnath Yatra every year. They had brought their 5 year old daughter to the trek and the little girl had trekked all the way up! There were people who chose horses and palanquins for their visit to the cave and some others who would do the entire Yatra barefooted. Finally there are the locals who help the Yatris in every way possible. Religion never comes in between during the Amarnath yatra. The Muslims provide shelter to the Hindu pilgrims during the Yatra. A true picture of communal harmony! The pilgrims could never complete their journey without the help of the locals. They were the most helpful and smiling people we met. There were such memories of the Amarnath Yatra which we will always remember and will continue to inspire us.

Amarnath Yatra
Mingling with the local people

Some Facts about Amarnath Yatra:

How to reach

There are two routes for doing the Yatra.

  1. Chandanwari route: Chandanwari – Pissu Top – Sesh Nag – Mahagunas Pass – Panchtarni – Sangam Point – Amarnath Cave. This is the longer and famous route (45 Km) and usually takes 2 to 3 days.

Chandanwari is near Pahalgam which is connected by road from Jammu and Srinagar.

  1. Baltal Route: Baltal – Sangam Point – Amarnath Cave. This is the shorter route (14 Km) and can be covered in a day.

Baltal can be reached by road from Srinagar.

Amarnath Yatra
These are not bio-degradable – Oh! Nature..

Some important tips about the Amarnath Yatra:

  1. Since 2014, Medical certificate from doctors prescribed by the Amarnath Shrine Board is required to do the Yatra. Also a certain number of Yatris are allowed to go for the Yatra on a particular date. So Yatris are allotted date beforehand. Please check the details and get the certificate ready.
  2. If you are planning to do the Yatra by foot, please prepare yourself. Increase your fitness by doing morning walk and light exercises. Amaranth is very much doable by foot. We strongly recommend completing the Yatra by foot.
  3. Do not worry about food and drinks. You will get the basic food in abundant.
  4. While on Yatra, please respect the mountains and nature. Do not litter or dirty the mountains
  5. Finally, please follow the rules. The Indian army does a tough job on the inhospitable mountains just to ensure our safety.

Please Note: 

In 2017, Amarnath Yatra  will start from 29th June 2017, the auspicious day of Skandshasthi as per Hindu Calendar, and shall conclude on 7th August 2017 (Shravan Purnima -Raksha Bandan).

Here are some useful links that might help with your Yatra:

Procedure for Advance Registration of Yatris for Yatra 2017

List of 436 Bank Branches for Registration of Yatris for Yatra 2017

State/UT wise List of Doctors/Institutions authorised to issue Compulsory Health Certificate for Shri Amarnathji Yatra 2017

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We are on the way towards the Holy Cave

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Amarnath Yatra

Taktsang Monastery – the Spiritual Encounter

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Taktsang Monastery at Paro. Bhutan

Taktsang Monastery or Tiger’s Nest Monastery was perhaps the best part of our visit to Bhutan. It is Bhutan’s most iconic landmark and religious site. Before visiting Bhutan, we did not know that the monastery was so perilously perched on a mountain cliff. The only word that came to my mind when visited the monastery was dangerously beautiful! The monastery looks as if it has grown out of the mountain itself.

Taksang Monastery
Taksang Monastery

Taktsang Monastery is believed to be the holiest place in Bhutan. It is located about 10 Km from the town of Paro at a height of about 3120 metres (10,240 ft). The rocky slopes are very steep and the monastery is built vertically on the rocks. But the way to the monastery is not very tough. The path goes through the pine forest and then an uphill climb to the monastery. Usually it takes about 3 hours of trekking to reach the monastery. Alternatively, horses are also available upto a certain point for those who do not prefer to walk.

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The trek starts

We started our trek to the monastery quite early in the morning. The first part of the route took us through the pine forests. We gained altitude as soon we were out of the forest following the trail.

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Welcome to the Monastery

As some turns, we got a spectacular view of Paro town; and that of the Taktsang Monastery which looked so far away! After a trek of about 1 hour, we came to the first stop – small café in the midst of nowhere. From here we get the first full view of the monastery – and a really majestic view of the monastery!

The first resting point and the glimpse of the Monastery
The first resting point and the glimpse of the Monastery

After a rest of few minutes, we start again following the trail to the monastery. Next, we reach the second stop. From here, horses are not allowed further. The rest of the journey is to be made on foot only. As we move up, we saw prayer flags flying around. There were many shrines all along the way.

Prayer wheel on the way
Prayer wheel on the way

The final stretch to the monastery comprises of around 850 steps going down fist and then climbing up to the monastery entrance. Phew! There was a lot of climbing to be done.

As we climb up, the silence of the place was broken by the sound of gurgling water and just before the monastery entrance; there is a waterfall to the left followed by a small bridge. A climb of a few more steps and we finally reached the monastery entrance.

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The waterfall on the way

Inside the monastery, we are not allowed to take any photographs. We had to keep our belongings at the ticket counter itself.

 The monastery building is comprised of 4 main temples and there are 8 caves. It is believed that Guru Padmasambhava meditated in one of these caves for 3 years, 3 months, 3 days and 3 hours. The cave where Padmasmabhava first entered, riding the Tigress, is known as ‘Tholu Phuk’ and the original cave where he meditated is known as the ‘Pel Phuk’. The caves are lighted by butter lamps and there are pictures of Lord Buddha in his different Avatars.  All the buildings of the monastery are interconnected with rocky stairs and stairways. The temple has the most ornately designed thangkas depicting the legends of Buddhism.

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Stairs leading to the monastery

We sat down at the main temple and realised the complete silence around us. Silence has its own beauty. A monk was meditating in the hall and the whole place had an ethereal feeling in the flickering light of the butter lamp. Once you are in this place, you are bound to revere it. This is one of the most surreal experiences I had. My visit to Auroville, Pondicherry comes a close second.

We came out of the monastery building and sat down for a while at the outside garden. The vastness of the surroundings humbled us. We sat down and felt the beauty of silence. A few birds were chirping around. Nature and spirituality were at perfect harmony with each other. The whole place seems to silently say that you can find your inner self at the lap of nature.

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So far… yet so near

The visit to Takshang Monastery was worth all the effort. If you are travelling to Bhutan, you must keep a day reserved for visiting this architectural wonder.

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Monastery at the backdrop

Trivia:

Taktshang means the Tiger’s lair. It is believed that in 8th century Guru Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche), an Indian saint flew down from Tibet to the on the back of a flying tigress and landed at a cliff. He meditated at this place for 3 years, 3 months, 3 days and 3 hours. The monastery was built at this place. So the monastery is also called the Tiger’s Nest. Guru Padmasambhava died in Nepal, but his body miraculously returned to Paro Taktsang and is reportedly sealed in a chorten at the top of the entrance stairway.

Some Facts:

How to reach: The monastery is about 10 km from the town of Paro.

Nearest Airport: Paro has the only airport in Bhutan.

By road: Paro is well connected with other cities of Bhutan

Distance: The total trekking distance is about 4 Km one way.

Panchmarhi – The Queen of Satpuras

summer destinations in India
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We at the Apsara Vihar

Panchmarhi , the queen of Satpuras is very rightly called so. It is a pristine hill station in Madhya Pradesh. We had got a few days leave from office and decided to visit Panchmarhi. We had not visited Madhya Pradesh before; so with full of thrill, we started for Panchmarhi. Panchmarhi is such a place that one will definitely fall in love with it. It appears as a cool oasis in the midst of a very hot Madhya Pradesh. Not only its climate, but its sceneries are quite different from the other regions of Madhya Pradesh.

The word “Panchmarhi” is said to be derived from the words “Panch” meaning five and “marhi” meaning caves. According to Hindu mythology, the Pandavas had stayed at Panchmarhi during the fourteen years of their exile. During 1857, Captain James Forsyth of the British Army discovered Panchmarhi. It was then quickly built into a hill station for the British, who preferred the climate of Panchmarhi to that of rest of Madhya Pradesh.

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Rajat Prapat or the Silver Falls

True to its name, Panchmarhi is a quaint hill station in the lap of Satpuras and is the home to many caves as well as waterfalls. So the next day, we hired a Maruti gypsy for our going around. Our first stop for the day was the Rajat Prapat or the Silver Falls. A guide has to be taken to visit the Silver Falls. When the rays of sun fall on the gurgling waters of Rajat Prapat, the water shines like that of silver. From Rajat Prapat, it is a ten minutes walk through the rocky path to the Apsara Vihar or Fairy Pool. It is a clear pool where the water is shallow and is a favourite picnic spot for children.

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Apsara Vihar or the Fairy Pool

A trivia: It is said that during the British era, British ladies used to come here for a bath.  The locals used to sneak at them. The ladies being fair, the locals thought of them to be apsaras or fairies. Hence the pool was named “Apsara Vihar”!

Our next stop was the famous “Bee Falls” or the Jamuna Prapat. It is 150 feet in height and is one of the most magnificent waterfalls of Panchmarhi. We had to trek down about a km downhill to reach the Bee Falls and when it appeared in front of us, we were just left awestruck. Water gushing down with great speed to a pool where many were taking a bath. It is indeed very hard to resist the temptation to take a bath in the pool and we too were not an exception. Leaving behind our inhibitions we headed towards the pool under the waterfall. It was an amazing experience to feel the stream of water fall on us from such a height!

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The Bee Falls or Jamuna Prapat

Panchmarhi is a small town, so we went to our hotel for having our lunch. After lunch, we headed towards Reechgarh. Reechgarh is a natural amphitheatre in the rocks and has three entrances. The marvels of rocks and stones can be seen here.

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Reechgarh

From Reechgarh, we finally went to Dhupgarh, the highest point in Satpura ranges and the spectacular sunset point of Panchmarhi.  Dhupgarh also gives a 360 degree view of the plateaus and mountain ranges around. The view from Dhupgarh is absolutely stunning! The green mountains and trees are all around and are really soothing to tired eyes and tired souls.  After a tiring day, we watched the lovely sun set against the green mountains.

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Dhupgarh

Our day ended with the beautiful memories of the waterfalls and the mesmerizing sunset and with the anticipation to see the other wonders of Panchmarhi the next day.

We started early the next day and went to “Gupt Mahadeo”. It is a 40 feet long and narrow cave where a Shiva lingam and a Ganesha idol is enshrined.  The cave is so narrow that we have to enter it sideways. Also, only eight people are allowed to enter the caves at a time. There is a narrow path which leads to the Bade Mahadeo from the Gupt Mahadeo, thought the tourists are not allowed to use this path.

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Gupt Mahadeo

We then went to the Bade Mahadeo temple. This cave is about 60 feet Long.  Large idols of Lord Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh and Lord Ganesha are enshrined inside the cave.  A serpentine road leads to the Bade Mahadeo temple. It is a wonder to see that water constantly falls upon the Shiv Linga inside the cave. A kund is also situated in the middle of the cave. There is another cave situated near bade Mahadeo, the cave of Goddess Parvati.

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Bada Mahadeo

Trivia: According to Hindu mythology, it is believed that Lord Vishnu incarnated as Mohini Killed the demon King Bhasmasur here. Bade Mahadeo thus holds a significant place to the worshippers of Lord Shive. Many people flock here during the Shivaratri.

After visiting the two shrines, we went to a place called Handi Khoh also called the suicide point. We finally found the “suicide pont” of Panchmarhi too. Every hillstation seems to have a suicide point!  It is a 300 feet deep ravine created by two hills. It is really frightening to look down, but the natural beauty of the place is mesmerizing. It is said that the British officer Handi has committed suicide by jumping into the ravine.

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Handi Khoh or Suicide Point

Next we went to Priyadarshini Point or the erstwhile Forsyth point. It is from this place that Captain James Forsyth had discovered Panchmarhi and later built it into a hill station for the respite of the British.  Whem Mrs. Indira Gandhi visited this place in 1964, this place was renamed the Priyadarshini Point. This place offers the most beautiful and breathtaking view of the Panchmarhi region.

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The Pandava Caves

Our next stop was the most famous and overrated destination of Panchmarhi – the Pandava caves. It is said that the Pandavas had stayed in these caves during their exile. It has five caves after the five Pandavas, though I personally believe that such caves could not belong to the Pandavas! The caves are really small and I was wondering how Bhima would enter such small caves! Nevertheless, the view from the top is good and the garden in front of the caves is beautiful.

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View of Panchmarhi from the top of Pandava Caves

Before lunch we went to visit “Jatashankar”. It is natural cave located in deep ravines with huge boulders perched over it.  This is a must see place in Panchmarhi. A reclusive place surrounded by hills, the caves has almost 108 Shiva Lingas formed naturally. It is said the Lord Shiva had left his Jata (hair) at this place. Water drops from the top of the cave and there are 2 pools inside the cave. You have to bend down to visit the shrines inside the cave. The temperature inside the caves is quite low and so it feels very comfortable there after coming from the sun. The naturally made cave is the real wonder of this place.

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Jatashankar

While returning we visited the Protestant Church of Panchmarhi. It is a British building made of stone and has stained glass windows. The surrounding greenery adds to its charm. The church is open on Sundays for visitors.

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The beautiful Protestant church

There are other places to visit in Panchmarhi like the Chauragarh where a life size shrine of Lord Shiva is enshrined. There are more that 1000 steps to cover to reach Chauragarh. Also there is the beautiful Dutch Falls which is a little deep inside the forests. We missed these points due to lack of time.

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Paragliding at Panchmarhi

Panchmarhi is a beautiful hill station away from the hustle bustle of the cities and a perfect place for a two day trip. Even a walk down the roads of Panchmarhi will make you feel good and jubilant. The waterfalls and the naturally formed caves and rocky structures are the major attractions. It was a perfect trip for us. It was not strenuous like our usual trekking programmes, also it had a few hikes which we really liked. Panchmarhi was thus a break from our usual travels and we really welcomed it. We had also visited Jabalpur from Panchmarhi. I will write about that in my following posts.

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MTDC Hotel – Rock end Manor

[hr]Some facts:[hr]

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Panchmarhi

How to reach Pachmarhi :

The nearest Airport to Pachmarhi is Bhopal’s Raja Bhoj Airport about 200kms

 Jabalpur’s Dumna Airport is about 250 kms away from Pachmarhi.

Nearest railway station to Pachmarhi is Pipariya which is about 52 kms away from Pachmarhi. Pipariya railway station is on Howrah-Mumbai main line and almost all passing-by trains use to stop here. Transfer from Pipariya to Pachmarhi is much difficult. Private public carrier Jeeps and Buses are available at Pipariya Railway Station all the time for heading towards Pachmarhi and vice versa at reasonable charges.

Pachmarhi is well connected with Jabalpur, Bhopal, Nagpur and Chindwara. Nagpur is about 250 kms from Pachmarhi. Thare are Madhya Pradesh State Buses plying from Panchmarhi to Jabalpur and Nagpur at fixed times.

Where to Stay:

The MP Tourism hotels are best places to stay in Panchmarhi not only because of their hospitality, but also of their beautiful locations. There are many private hotels available in the market area.

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MTDC Hotel

She turned her cant’s into cans, and dreams into plans

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One of the best things of travelling is that we get to meet a lot of people. People of different culture, background, values will cross our way. Each person we meet has something or the other to teach us – be it a valuable knowledge or a warning that we ought to remember. There are people who would inspire us and broaden our horizon. I write of such a lady whom we met during our travel to Neil Islands in Andamans.

Andaman Islands is itself a paradise in itself and Neil Island is a jewel in the archipelago. We met Mrs. Sadhana Naskar at the Neil Island. She runs a restaurant at the island near the Bharatpur Beach at Neil islands and that too very successfully! The beach has another restaurant and the island itself has other places to eat. But most of the tourist flock to “Mega Resturant” to have their lunch as “Boudi” (Mrs. Naskar is fondly called so by the islanders) serves a delicious platter.

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The “Mega Restaurant” near Bharatpur Beach, Neil Islands

To me she was Sadhana Di. Sadhana Di single handedly runs the restaurant with two girls as her helpers. She takes down the orders herself and prepares the food for her guests too. Her husband Tara da sometimes helps her with serving the food and handling the customers. Sadhana di is a great cook and her restaurant is hardly ever empty during the lunch time.

Sadhana di was born and brought up in Krishnagar, Nadia. She is the eldest among her siblings. She was married off early and with her husband she arrived at Neil island, Andamans 15 years back, where he worked as contractor. They lived in a rented house in the beginning. As Tara da used to go out for work, Sadhana di would complete her daily chores and then go out and visit the nearby villagers. “After completing my day’s work, I used to feel alone. I would go out and visit the other houses and talk to all the ladies.” Says Sadhana di. “I am very talkative and cannot stay quiet for long”, was her own rendition.

After 5 years or so, it was due to Sadhana di’s persuasion, the couple bought a land near the Bharatpur beach by Rs.50000/-. From that time she toiled hard to build her home. Sadhana di had the habit of savings from early. “I had a recurring deposit account of Rs.600/- at that time. It helped us while buying the land.” And she continued her recurring deposit since then. She had this sense of saving and a very good acumen for business. Gradually, their condition improved and in 2014, her restaurant was opened with the help of bank loan and her savings. The restaurant now provides Sea food and Bengali food items. She did not have to look back since then. Now she is busy with her restaurant and plans to extend the restaurant further. She even plans to set up a hotel for the tourists to stay from 2016.

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With Sadhana Di

Sadhana di is not just an entrepreneur, she is also a leader. She heads a Self Help Group of 10 women like her from the Neil island village. She actively works in the group and helps its members to get loans from bank whenever in need. She has herself obtained loan from the bank to set up her restaurant and she never fails an EMI. Villagers also come to her for advice and help.

Sadhana di works hard and is disciplined. Her day begins at 5 in the morning, after catering to her household needs, she starts working for her restaurant. She works incessantly and loves to talk to people. Sadhana di has proved that nothing is impossible for a woman if she sets her mind on it. A perfect mix of courage and brains, she is taking her business forward in strong strides. With a supportive husband and three daughters, Sadhana di is not only helping herself, but also other village women. She is indeed an inspiration!

Andamans

Let the sea set you free – Scuba Diving at Andamans

Scuba Diving at Andamans
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Mesmerising underwater experience

During all these years of travelling together, we have always preferred the mountains. We hiked, trekked and travelled mountains and hill stations. The sea seemed to elude us. But this time, we could not avoid the calling of the seas and with our backpacks headed for the beautiful Andamans…

Being in Andamans is itself a singular experience, but the best thing we discovered at Andamans is the underwater marine life. Nothing could be as exquisite and surreal than going 12 metres down the sea and watching the corals, anemones and the fishes playing by your side.

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Fishes moving around

I always had fear of waters. Even when we visited beaches, I would be happy playing with the sands near the beach and would not prefer to go deep into the sea for having a fun filled bath. I am not particularly hydrophobic. I love the water around me, I am not scared to ride a speed boat, nor do I get sea sickness easily. But I am petrified of the water above my head. I am scared to put my head below the water level! So when I was asked to do scuba diving and snorkeling, I had cold feet and I downright refused to take part.

The scuba diving centres at North Bay Island, Andamans had experienced trainers. He tried to explain me the nuances of diving and continuously tried to allay my fears. After much assurance and encouragement from both my husband and my trainer, I finally was ready to take the plunge (literally)! 

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All set to take the dive…

Well, let me here give you some facts about both scuba diving and snorkeling. There is a basic difference between the two. In scuba diving, you actually go inside the water to view the marine life, while in snorkeling, you just float in water and view the underwater marine life using your goggles and underwater breathing equipment (known as snorkel). Knowing swimming is not essential for both scuba diving and snorkeling. But if you want to do a PADI certification in scuba diving, then knowing how to swim is required.

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Snorkeling at Elephant beach, Havelock, Andamans

In scuba diving, weights are put on your waist which will help you to stay underwater. There is breathing equipment (called SCUBA – Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) with air tanks which helps you to breathe underwater. So with weights on me and with the scuba, I was all geared up to dive into the endless sea. I was scared, my heart was beating fast and I was still saying that I will not go down. And then my trainer asked me to put my head under water. I did so with my eyes tightly shut. I was taking the names of all the gods and goddesses I knew…

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Enjoying the underwater experience

And then I opened my eyes! I was in utopia. With blue all around me and colourful fishes playing by my side. There were corals of different colours. The sea anemones floated around, and I moved like a fish inside water. I forgot all me fears and apprehensions and was looking at the beautiful creatures mesmerized. Blue, yellow, red – fishes of different colours moved by my side.  And then I saw a swarm of fish moving around. It was an exhilarating moment to see the marine life. I touched the corals and sea anemones. I walked on the sea bed. It was all an amazing and life changing experience.

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Diving together is fun too…

20 minutes down at the sea was a pure bliss. I had never experienced anything like this before. The underwater life is so full of life and variety. I came out of the water with tears in my eyes. All I wanted then is to go back again! Well, I overcame my fear of water to some extent.

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Underwater marine life

Nature’s gift is abundant and it surprises us at every corner. Be it the huge mountains or the endless seas, we are always left open mouthed and amazed at their resources. And at every step, it teaches us something new.

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Playing with the sea anemones

Planning to visit Andamans? Contact us for all details. We can plan the trip for you and help you with any guidance required.

Been to Andamans?  Please share your views with us. We will be happy to hear from you.

6 REASONS WHY SANDAKPHU PHALUT TREK MAKES A GREAT TREKKING EXPERIENCE

Sndakphu-phalut trek

The Sandakphu Phalut Trek starts from the picturesque village of Manebhanjan, a village near Darjeeling. Spanned across 5 days, the trek gives you the magnificent and best views of Kanchenjunga ranges. It has very beautiful campsites or hamlets for night stay. Here are my 6 reasons of what makes Sandakphu an awesome trek.

  1. Get the best view of Kanchenjunga ranges

The Sandakphu Phalut Trek trek offers august views of the Kanchenjunga and Makalu ranges along with a picturesque view of the Everest and Annapurna family. And the best thing about the trek is that the view of the ranges stays with the trekker throughout the trek. You don’t have to wait for a day; the first clear view of Kanchenjunga is seen on the very first day of the trek, at Upper Chitrey. And Kanchenjunga plays hide and seek with you throughout the trek. After a tired and torturous hike, all your tiredness melts just at a look at the Kanchenjunga!

Sandakphu Phalut Trek
Resting at the meadows
  1. A trek with the best sunrise and sunset points

Sandakphu Phalut Trek gives you the best views of sunrises and sunsets. The sunrise and sunsets are gorgeous from both Tonglu and Tumling.

Sandakphu Phalut Trek
Sunrise from Tumling

The sunset from Kalipokhri is stunning.

Sandakphu Phalut Trek
Sunset at Kalipokhri

And the climax is viewing the golden rays of the sun falling gradually on the snow-capped Kanchenjunga and then on world’s highest peak, Mt. Everest at Sandakphu.  And the icing on the cake is the sunrise from Phalut. Each day, you see a new and a better sunrise – a speciality of the Sandakphu Phalut Trek.

Sandakphu Phalut Trek
First rays of sun at Lhotse range
  1. The stretch from Sandakphu to Phalut is a perfect potboiler.

The trail from Sandakphu to Phalut is a long 21 km but is full of twists and turns. You cross through rocky and muddy paths, you will go through a trail of forest and you will also see the vast meadows under the clear sky.

Sandakphu Phalut Trek
The vast meadows en route Phalut

The landscape keeps changing. And the best is the view of Kanchenjunga from the green meadows. The day is a long one and is packed with every delight a trek has to offer.

  1. Food and lodging easily available throughout the Sandakphu Phalut Trek.

This trek has trekker’s hut and home-stays throughout with very warm and hospitable people. They will go all out to make your stay comfortable. So there is no need to carry tents and ration.

Sandakphu Phalut Trek
Trekker’s Hut at Phalut

Home-stays are available at Chitrey, Meghma, Tumling and Kalipokhri. Trekker’s huts are available at Tonglu, Sandakphu, Phalut and Gorkhey.

Sandakphu Phalut Trek
Homestay at Kalipokhri
  1. Different view at different seasons

Each season has Sandakphu in a different look. If you love colours, visit Sandakphu during the springs. See the rhododendrons bloom in a riot of colours. The whole path will be blasting in red, pink and white.

Sandakphu Phalut Trek
Rhododendrons in full bloom

Sandakphu will bear a dreamy look in the monsoons. With the clouds hanging just above, you will be transported to the misty and dreamy land.

Sandakphu Phalut Trek
The misty land

October will give you the best view of the ranges. The sky will be clear and Kanchenjunga will appear with all her glory in front of you.

Sandakphu Phalut Trek
Clear view of Kanchejungha from Phalut

And if you love snow, visit Sandakphu during December and January. The path will be covered with snow and you might even see a few frozen waterfalls on the way! Sandakphu will itself be snow covered during this time.

Sandakphu Phalut Trek
Snow covered trail in January
  1. A photographer’s paradise

Each day of the trek will give you different views of Kanchenjunga and Everest ranges. The path through the jungles will give you ample scope for photography. The sunrise and sunsets from the campsites are simply amazing.

Sandakphu Phalut Trek
Sunrise from Sandakphu

You will also get the night sky and city lights together for photography! From Manebhanjan and Kalipokhri, Darjeeling city can be seen; and at night, little pecks lighting up Darjeeling city under the starlit sky is a great subject of photography.

And finally, photographer’s delight- birds are found in abundance at Gorkhey village. So overall, photographers are surely going to have a feast!

Sandakphu Phalut Trek
Everest family from Sandakphu

Sandakhphu- Phalut is a great trekking experience. It is not a very difficult trek and can be done by amateurs too. The best part of the trek is the Himalayan ranges so close to you. It makes you feel humbled. So what are you waiting for? Pack your backpack and visit Sandakphu and rejuvenate yourself. 

Sandakphu Phalut Trek
2 Backpackers on the way to Phalut

Contact us for any help and information required for Sandakphu-Phalut trek.

You may also like : Essential things to carry for Himalayan Treks

Explore all our Himalayan Hikes here.

South Park Street Cemetery – a tryst with Calcutta’s past

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With love in their heart and memories that are forever, the tombs of South Park Street Cemetery was built by the grieving family members. South Park Street Cemetery has always been an enigmatic place for me. While in school (The Assembly of God Church School, Park Street), I was always overwhelmed by the cemetery. I always wanted to see what is there inside those gates, but finally got a chance after so long. The historic Calcutta has always interested me and South Park Street Cemetery is a perfect place to experience it. So along with Agni, I was at the Park Street Cemetery to ease our curiosities.

South Park Street Cemetery
The enigmatic cemetery

As I entered the gates, I was awed seeing the huge tombs and obelisks. The place clearly had the old world smell with an eerie feel. Calcutta, during those days, was much different from that of today. A much calmer place and it had real jungles and not the concrete forests! In this cemetery are the tombs of men and women who inhabited Calcutta during the early 18th century. They led a difficult existence and were not blessed with the modern amenities. They lived in clingy dwellings without high ceilings and airy verandahs. Neither did they have any medical knowledge and expertise to save themselves from the tropical diseases like malaria and fevers. They lived at the mercy of changing and harsh climate. Above all the loneliness and nostalgia for home was hardest for them. They often succumbed to various diseases at their youth and the cemetery bears witness to that. Most of the tombs show that the dead had not even reached their forties!

South Park Street Cemetery

South Park Street Cemetery

The cemetery was earlier a marshy land with patches of jungle. It was later built by Sir Elijah Impey and renamed as the Park Street Cemetery. The cemetery is the home of various tombs and mausoleums, thus becoming a fascinating place for those attracted towards the history of Calcutta. The architecture of the tombs is reminiscent of the grandeur of Europe at those times. The British who were living at such distance from their homeland showed their love of classicism while commemorating their friend and relatives. Roman architecture was made to glorify the memory of Colonel Charles Russell Deare, who fought in North America and the West Indies and was slain by a cannon ball while fighting Tipu Sultan. There are other tombs which paid tribute to other personnel in the British army and sailors.

South Park Street Cemetery

Among these are also found the tombs of William Jones, a Scholar, polyglot and an Indophile.  His tomb is one of the tallest in the ground.

South Park Street Cemetery
Tomb of William Jones

The tomb of Hindoo Stuart or Major General Charles Stuart is present. His love for Indians and Indian things had earned him the name “Hindoo Stuart”. Other important names are the tombs of Lt. Robert Kyd, a botanist, Sir John Royds, Lt. Col. James Lillyman (builder of Fort William) and Lt. Col. Colin Mackenzie(Surveyor General of India and Orientals). The most famous tomb is that of Henri Louis Vivian Derozio, the radical educationist and poet who disseminated Western learning and science among the youths of Bengal.

South Park Street Cemetery
Tomb of Derozio

Not only does the cemetery has tombs of famous and known people but also has tombs from the common people of the community. There are tombs of teachers, cattle breeders, postmasters, housewives. Among them, there are tombs of many women and children – their life ended at a very tender age. There are family mausoleums – having graves of the members of the same family.

South Park Street Cemetery
A Family Tomb

As I looked at the graves and tombs, I could clearly picture the life during those times. Their descendants are present – may be in India, or in any other part of the world. They might remember their ancestors who are lying so far from them.

South Park Street Cemetery

Visiting the Cemetery had been a humbling experience. It reminded us that death is the ultimate truth.

 South Park Street Cemetery

Many of the information provided here has been taken from a booklet sold at the South Park Street Cemetery.

The Cemetery is open from 8.00 AM to 5.00 PM

 South Park Street Cemetery

Marble Palace – A hidden treasure in the heart of Kolkata

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Beginning our first post with the Marble Palace.

Situated at Muktaram Babu Street, I myself did not know that Kolkata had such a treasure trove within her. This is one of the lesser known places of interest in Kolkata and thus the apt choice for my first post.

The Marble Palace
The Marble Palace Kolkata

Marble Palace was built in 1835 by Raja Rajendra Mallick, an affluent businessman and zamindar of those times. About a few minutes walk from the Mahatma Gandhi Road Metro station, stands the grand white Marble Palace which is a testimony to the opulence and grandeur of the period.

As you enter the premises, you will be first impressed by the grand white building with a beautiful pond with a stone fountain and statues of mermaids. The fountain does not work now, but nevertheless it does not lessen the beauty of the place. There is a well maintained green lawn with marble statues of lions sitting in different positions of sleeping, sitting and prowling. It seemed that they were the protectors of the place. As you roam about the garden, you will get a glimpse of the eccentricity of the Raja. Seating arrangements were also spread across the lawn and in some places there were tables with marble table tops. A perfect place for recline !

We were welcomed into the palace by a huge deer bust. As we entered the huge white mansion, we were transported to a different era. The colorful marble floors are a treat to the eyes. We were informed that the floors are made up of at least 96 different types of marbles. The ceilings too are intricately designed. Like all other mansions of those times, this also has a big courtyard or thakur dalan. I later found out that the palace was built in Neo-classical style (Thanks to google!)

The Marble Palace
The Marble Palace

In the ground floor, there is a huge billiard room where two billiard boards were kept. There were other beautiful statues of other Greek mythological characters like Apollo, Thalia in this room.

From the Billiard room, we entered the “Victoria Room”. Here a magnificent statue of Queen Victoria of about 16 ft height was present. The statue was carved out of a single piece of wood! There is a bronze bust the queen along with the Greek Goddess Medusa. What caught my eyes were huge porcelain vases and urns from China and Japan.

Next we moved on to the reception room. Imagine the kind of reception one would get in such a grand reception hall!  Here you will see the remarkably intricate designs of the ceilings and the colorful marble floors. The raja did not want to miss anything… There is a piano standing in the room along with various marble and brass statues. There were statues depicting the four seasons of summer, winter, autumn and spring at the four corners of the room. In between them, there were statues symbolising agriculture and commerce. This depicted the symbiotic growth of agriculture and commerce in developing the economy of our country.

We came out of the room to the huge courtyard (Thakur Dalan). In the corridors, there are cages of exotic and colourful birds from Australia and South America. We moved on upstairs through the wooden stairs to the first floor.

Here we saw a portrait of Raja Rajendra Mullick and many other beautiful paintings, of which one was painted by Raja Ravi Verma.

The Marble Palace
The Marble Palace

We moved on to a room where many spectacular paintings of various famous painters like Dushmanta & Shakuntala by Raja Ravi Verma, “The Infant Hercules Strangling the Serpent” and “Venus and Cupid” by Sir Joshua Reynolds, The Marriage of St. Catherine” and “The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian” by Rubens, Murillo beautifying the walls. We were simply awe stuck by the collection. Along with these art works were present huge chandeliers which were simply unique and breath taking. The place can be one of immense interest to art lovers.

We entered another room where paintings of “Diana Hunting” and “Raja Harishchandra” along with some others were present. Some beautiful furniture was also strewn in this room.  An antique French clock and a huge Belgian mirror completed the magnanimity of the room. A 200 year old wall clock of King Charle’s nephew was present.

Next we moved on to the awesome ball room. Here are two gigantic mirrors of about 20 feet made up of single piece of glass on either sides of the room. Antique Victorian furniture beautified the room.

The corridors were also worth seeing. They were filled with vases, paintings, marble and wooden sculpture. Bust of Homer and Laughing Satyr were present among many others. A huge brass hookah with beautiful design is kept at the hallway.

The garden has a privately maintained zoo having antelopes, porcupine and barking deers along with some birds. The aviary inside the palace containing parrots, hornbills, macau and different varieties of parakeet are simply outstanding. It can put any zoos into shame. This is supposedly the first zoo in India and the only privately maintained zoo in Asia.

The artifacts are a mixture of Greek, Roman and Indian mythology as well as that of Biblical features. Raja Rajendra Mullick’s love for both oriental and western arts could be very well understood from his collections. Cultural wealth amassed in this palace is quite unparallel and it has art and historical relics from many countries across the globe. The paintings, the Japanese and Chinese porcelains, the antique furniture and wall clocks, mirrors add great value to the palace. Yet this place remains unnoticed as tourist attraction! Renovation and care can turn this place to a treat for the tourist as well as for the connoisseurs of art and culture. The dilapidating structure can be transformed into a museum of enviable collection.

The Marble Palace
The Marble Palace

Marble Palace – Some Facts:

To visit Marble Palace, you have to obtain prior permission 24 hours in advance from the West Bengal Tourism Information Bureau at BBD Bag, Kolkata.

Being a private property, photography is prohibited there.

Marble Palace is open from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm on all days except Mondays and Thursdays

You have to take a guide to go inside the palace which is chargeable.

KOLKATA – My city, My way

Victoria Memorial

Kolkata – is my city. I was born here, put my first step on its streets, ran about in its alleys as a child, and made some very good friends in all these years of my life. Spirit of Kolkata inspires me. I am alive in its vibrant colour, cacophony of sound, its variety street food and colourful festivals. Kolkata is truly my city.

Kolkata
My City My Way

Kolkata has its share of shortcomings too. Very candidly called the “city of Bandhs, lockouts and rallies.” Yes the weather is quite oppressive as complained by my cousins from Mumbai & Pune. The local trains do not run on time. The conditions of buses are not at all good. The people indulge in long adda sessions (Rock Baji). In fact the last few months have seen Kolkata in all kinds of wrong news.

But there is something about Kolkata which is inexplicable. The city is called “the city of joy”. Happiness, joy, pride is interwoven in Kolkatans. A city which is so conversant in both the spectrums – be its arts and classics or that of the sports, Kolkatans do everything with passion!

Kolkata is known for a few special things. You cannot imagine Bengalis without their football. The football fields get lively whenever there is an East Bengal- Mohunbagan Match. The Ghoti – Bangal row among the Bengalis is equally amusing. And the Bengali’s love for Rabindranath Tagore is well known and they simply idolise Dada (Sourav Ganguly)  .

 To me Kolkata is my home. Many times I have been frustrated with the city, been angry at it; but could never abandon it, while being away from it. We thus present the best of Kolkata – why we love it so much.

The best of Kolkata for you in a series of posts…

An walk to remember – Chadar Frozen River Trek

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The Chadar Trek

Ladakh is place that never fails to awe its visitors. Be it the picturesque valleys, the rugged mountains, the azure lakes or the difficult trekking trails, Ladakh seems to have it all to captivate the souls who are always in search of nature’s wonder.

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Leh Palace, Leh

During the summers, Ladakh is vibrant with all the colours and sound of life. The same place bears a desolate and bleak look during the winter months. It is almost cut off from the rest of the world during this time and almost all the passes connecting Leh are closed due to heavy snowfall. The only way you enter Leh is by flight! Some of the villages become inaccessible during the winters due to snow and one can reach such village by trekking though frozen rivers!!! Yes, that’s Ladakh for you…

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Bird’s eye view of Leh from flight

The Zanskar River is a wild river gushing through the ravines and treacherous canyons of Ladakh. During the summers, the mighty river flows with all its fervor. But, during the winters, the river freezes and calms down. A blanket of ice forms over the river – thus letting the locals who are trapped in the inaccessible Zanskar villages walk over it and reach towards civilization in case of exigencies. This frozen blanket or “CHADAR” is the only way in and out for the Zanskari villagers in winter.

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The locals treading the frozen Chadar

The temperature during this time can be as low as -10 degrees in the morning and -25 degrees in the evening! A seven to eight days hike in inhospitable conditions over the river would take you from Padum, capital of Zanskar valley to Chilling, near Leh. The CHADAR Trek, according to me is not just a trek; it is symbol of hope and optimism. It signifies the indomitable spirit and courage of the people of the region.

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The Chadar

The CHADAR trek is now perhaps one of the most glamorous treks in India! But, walking over thin ice layer over a fast flowing blue river, shouting bloody hell at -25 degree (we did the trek with INDIAHIKES) or posing in front of a frozen waterfall is not all about CHADAR frozen river trek. Imagine the thrill of walking with a large backpack over a few inches of thick ice below which the chill, rapid waters of Zanskar is gushing through!

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Thrill of walking down the Chadar

The locals who walk down the boulevard of Zanskar, from Chilling to Padum in the span of a week sleeps in the caves of the canyon walls.

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The Canyons of the Zanskar Valleys

For the trekkers the CHADAR Frozen River trek starts from Chilling, a few kilometers ahead of the Zanskar-Indus Sangam point and leads through the narrow canyons of the Zanskar valley. The trek ends at the Nerak village. The breathtaking views of golden mountains, frozen waterfalls, hanging icicles the babble of river few inches below your feet is sure to mesmerize you.

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The golden sun-kissed mountains
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Frozen waterfall… many can be seen during the trek

The chilly winds is sure to blow you away and the freezing cold nights at the campsites below the clear starry skies would make you realise what CHADAR really is! And after a couple of days in CHADAR, the sound of the flowing rivers underneath your feet will indeed be like music to your ears.

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The Chadar

The sound of the CHADAR changes according to its thickness.  And if you are lucky enough, you might even spot the footprints of snow leopards on the snow.

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Snow leopards???

Early mornings in CHADAR will seem like you are inside a refrigerator. Your hands and feet will go numb. The only therapy here is to walk and walk fast until your feet response again. As you walk down the CHADAR, the sun will play hide and seek with you. You will definitely crave for the warmth of the sun here.

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The sun playing hide and seek with us…

The entire trek path is not uniform. At places you will find fresh snow, while at other places you have to tread on hard ice. Walking on soft snow is relatively easy than walking on hard ice. You have to walk slowly in a penguin kind of way.

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Walking down the Chadar is not an easy task…

Also there are chances that you will fall down. But don’t worry, it happens to all. Experienced trekkers as well as the locals fall down on hard ice. The only thing you do in such situation is to rise again and start walking again with the same zeal and spirit. And at some places, there is no CHADAR at all!! It is broken, weak or not formed. Here you have to make your way through the chilling water. 

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Chadar broken

And if the water is quite deep, you have to climb over the mountains to cross the broken CHADAR.

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Climbing the mountains…

CHADAR boasts of some very difficult campsites. The locals usually stay at the caves during the night. If you are going with some trekking agency, you might be provided with tents. Personally, our favourite campsite is the Shingra Koma campsite. It is a big campsite beside a frozen stream. As you walk down the stream exploring, you will encounter a frozen waterfall. The whole place will look as if straight out of some Hollywood movie.

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The campsite

CHADAR Frozen river trek is an ultimate experience for all the wanderlust. So what is keeping you back? Shed your inhibitions and venture for this trek. You will return a much stronger person and with memories which you can cherish and brag for the rest of your life. After all, it’s not every day that you walk over water and sleep at -25 degrees !

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Enjoying the trek and cold to the fullest…

The trek route:

Leh – Tilat Sumdo – Shingra Koma – Tibb – Nerak – Tibb – Shingra Koma – Tilat Sumdo – Leh

We had a wonderful experience at Chadar Frozen river trek. Please feel free to comment and add your experience too. Also we welcome any queries regarding Chadar….

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We at the Chadar Trek

Tawang – a different view

Arunachal Pradesh
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We at the Serene Madhuri Lake

“Tawang is a utopia” – I have heard this from an aunt who had visited Tawang some 10 years back. Yet she could vividly describe her experience even now. So, we two decided to pack our backpacks and head towards Tawang during the Puja holidays!!

Tawang has been a kaleidoscope to us. We sensed the Buddhist culture for the first time seeing the mighty Tawang monastery and the Buddhist monks. We could feel the tension of the people living so close to international borders by interacting with the local people. We felt proud of our Indian army who protects the borders in such inhospitable conditions.

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The Buddha at Tawang Monastery

The beauty of Tawang lies in its harshness. It is a rugged territory with very extreme climates. Even in October it was chilling. Tawang boasts of many interesting places, but what attracted me most here are the lakes.

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A lake near Tawang

Arunachal Pradesh has more than 806 high altitude wetlands, out of which almost 300 are present in the Kameng and Tawang district. These high altitude lakes serve as reservoirs for most of the rivers of Arunachal Pradesh.

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A unknown lake of Tawang….

In the rugged terrains, in the midst of a hill, suddenly you could see a patch of blue or emerald waters, just giving you the feel of an oasis. In our way towards the Sangetsar Tso, or more commonly the Madhuri Lake (named so after Madhuri Dixit had shot here her film Koyla with Shah Rukh Khan), we saw many small and big lakes, some with names and others whose names we could not know. Tawang truly seemed to me like a land of beautiful lakes.

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The Sanget Sar Lake or Madhuri Lake

The first one is the Sela Lake just as you cross the Sela Pass at 13,700 ft. and enter Tawang. The Sela Lake just gives you a glimpse of what Tawang holds for you. The crystal clear lake is sheltered by the majestic ranges of Eastern Himalayas. The place is extremely windy and cold. But we were quite enthralled seeing the lake inspite of shivering from top to bottom !

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Magnificent view of the Sela Lake

The Sela lake is home to a beautiful legend. It is said that during the Sino-Indian war in 1962, a heroic sepoy Jashwant Singh single handedly defended against the Chinese troops near the Sela Pass. A tribal woman named Sela used to bring him food and supplies. Jashwant Singh eventually achieved martyrdom while Sela is rumored to have killed herself on seeing the dead body of Jashwant Singh.

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PT. Tso Lake near Tawang

As tourist spots, you will be taken to the beautiful Madhuri Lake and P. T. Tso (Pankang Teng Tso) lake in Tawang.But there are lots more to see. Enroute these two spots, we encountered a few lakes whose name was not known, but their beauty was no less. As we left Tawang towards the Madhuri Lake, we saw a small, blue lake which our driver informed us that shooting of the film Koyla had taken place there. On the way towards Zemithang, we saw another beauty – a twin lake – two lakes side by side. The view completely bowled us over.

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The Twin Lake

The climax to all these was the Sangetsar Lake or Madhuri Lake itself at an altitude of 12,000 ft. In the midst of mountains, lies the huge blue lake with trunks of trees jutting out of the lake.

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The clear waters of Madhuri Lake

The lake was formed in 1950 during an earthquake. It was a grazing ground previously. The earthquake resulted in geological shift and the lake miraculously moved from its earlier position to that of a pine forest. The entire forest was drowned except the tree trunks which are still seen amidst the clear lake. It is believed by the locals that the trees are still living!! The beauty of the lake is still afresh in our minds. The serenity of the place still haunts us. Even as I close my eyes and think, I am transported to another surreal world of magic and tranquility.

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An aerial view of the Madhuri Lake

Tawang has a number of very alluring lakes – Kyo-Tso Lake, Kheset Tso, Tsobri Lake, Chanrezing Latso, Chomu and a few others. As you will be travelling around Tawang, you will be overwhelmed by seeing numerous exotic nameless lakes. If these were properly maintained and developed Tawang would boast of not only two lakes, but many other enticing tourist spots.

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Poor road conditions at Tawang
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Another unnamed lake near Tawang

Another unnamed lake near Tawang

Tawang – Some facts:

How to reach:

Nearest airport: Tezpur

Nearest Railway station: Rangapara, Assam

By road: From Tezpur via Bhalukpong – Bomdila – Dirang – Sela Pass – Tawang

Best Time to visit:

March to October. Winters are harsh in Tawang. But if you want to see the beauty of the lakes, the ideal time to visit is October. Also monsoon is to avoided due to the road conditions. Winter clothes required throughout the year.

Things to see:

1. Tawang Monastery and other Buddhist monasteries; 2. Lakes; 3. Bumla; 4. Jung Falls; 5. Jashwant Garh; 6. War Memorial

ATMs available

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We at Kyo-Tso Lake